On the 13th of this month, the President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regiona, Massud Barzani, held a Press conference near the city of Sinjar to announce that the city had been completely rre-taken from ISIS.
Sinjar (called Shegal in Kurdish), a little mountainous region whose principal city bears its name, lies on the Syrian borders. Mainly inhabited by Yezidis, who form a non-Moslem religious community, considered “Devil–worshippers” by ISIS. it has been occupied by the latter on August 2014. About 50,000 unarmed civilians had to seek refuge in the surrounding mountains, without food or water. Nearly 5,000 men and children were massacred in the town and the surrounding Yezidi villages. The Syrian Kurdish PYD party succeeded in opening a corridor that enabled a large part of the Yezidis trapped in the Sinjar mountain massif to escape from te Jihadists by going towards Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) on the ther side of the Syrian border. However, thousands of Yezidi women, perhaps as many os 5,000 of them, were captured by the Jihadists and either forcibly “married ” to its activists, sold into sexual slavery or murdered. At the time UNO denounced this as an attempted genocide — thousands of them are still in ISIS’s hands.
In December 2014 Peshmerga units of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) had succeeded in driving ISIS out of the Northern part of the Sinjar Massif, though the city, in the Southern part was still in the hands of the Jihadists. Early this month the Peshmergas began to deploy with the aim of winning back the Southern part of the Sinjar Massif and the city itself.
The loss of Sinjar is a serious defeat for ISIS as this region lies on the organisations strategic line of communication between its “capital”, Raqqa, and Mosul, its principal stronghold in Iraq. Indeed, Masud Barzani also stated that the liberation of Sinjar would have an important impact on the liberation of Mosul. Many experts agree that ISIS probably set of the Paris terrorist attacks on the same day as its lost Sinjar so as to minimise its loss in the world news.
While the recovery of Sinjar is an important advance in the struggle against ISIS, it also raises a variety of other problems.
The first of these is the future of the recovered area. While the Yezidis are overwhelmingly Kurdish speakers, Sinjar is one of the areas subject to dispute between the Iraqi central Government and the KRG, and is not officially part of the Kurdistan federal region. Yet, in his speech, Masud Barzani pointed out that as “the city was been liberation by the blood of the Peshmergas it would thus be incorporated in the Kurdistan Federal Region”. Prime Minister Neçirvan Barzani later made a statement of the same import: “I am glad to tell our beloved people of Sinjar that we are going to take the legal and administrative measures to support their demand for making Sinjar into a province in its own right”. The Iraqi central Government cannot fail to be annoyed by such a decision although it is in no position to oppose it.
It is interesting to note that this decision had already been approved by Murat Karayilan, the leader of the PKK, the Turkish Kurdistan party, whose troops had part in the battle, though not mentioned by Masud Barzani. He said, in this respect “We see no reason for separating Sinjar from Kurdistan”.
Indeed, the battle for the city was co-ordinated by the KRG with the help of anti-ISIS Coalition — US Special Forces were present as advisors to the Kurds as well as a number of other forces. The KRG announced it had deployed 7,500 Peshmergas, butthese were organised on the front in groups according to their political affiliations. Thus in addition to the Barzani’s KDP Peshmerga units, to which were added some Yezidis, the PUK Peshmerga units also took part. Many Yezidis, who had lost confidence in the Peshmergas after the ISIS attack, had formed their own fighting units, sometimes organised on a tribal basis. The PKK, who had about 5,000 fighters in the region and the PYD, its Syrian brother party, also took part nad had formed their own Yezidi militia groups . . . The recapture of the city proper had been delayed by differences between the various Kurdish forces — thus the KRG had asked the PKK to leave the region, to which the PKK had replied that it would when ISIS had been driven out.
Following their retaking of the city, the Kurdish fighters spent some weeks clearing the town of the booby traps that had been hidden there by the Jihadists. Also over a dozen mass graves were discovered neat the city by the end of the month, mostly containing the bodies of murdered Yezidi women.
Immediately opposite Sinjar, on the Syrian side of the border, the Kurds had also dealt ISIS a severe blow. On the 14th of the month the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-Arab alliance, essentially organised round the PYD and supported by the anti-ISIS Coalition, won back from ISIS the small town of Al-Hawl, to the East of Hassaké Province. Like Sinjar, Al-Hawl lies on the, ain road linking Mosul and Raqqa. This is the first significant success for the SDFs, officially created with US support the month before. It is a step towards the liberation of Hassaké as a whole, which was the declared objective of the SDF. On the 17th, the SDF’s spokesman, Talal Ali Sello, announced that the organisation had driven the Jihadists from 200 villages in the province.
ISIS seems to be taking the threat to their “capital” seriously — the leading Jihadists are evacuating their families from Raqqa but also expelling Kurdish families from the town to Palmyra, accusing them of providing information to the YPG (People’s Protection Units), a PYD aligned militia.
On another front, the YPG, backed by Russian fighter aircraft, advanced on the 28th in the d’Al-Azaz area, North of Aleppo, waging fierce battles against the Al-Nosra Front, an al-Qaïda affiliate. This is an important area for the PYD, since it separated the two Kurdish “Cantons” of Kubané and Afrin. Its control would enable the Kurds to set up a continuous, and more defendable territory. This implies taking control of the town of Jerabblous, at present held by ISIS. Turkey has repeatedly declared that it would not accept such a more. However the YPG seems to enjoy the support of both the Russians and the Americans — which would make any Turkish intervention politically delicate . . . Russia has stated that it does not consider the PKK (or its brother party the PYD) terrorist organisations and the United States have sent some of their Special Forces to Kobané to train and advise the Kurds.
Sources differ on the US position, some saying that the americans have confirmed the Turkish ban on crossing the Euphrates, while others say that the American might advise the YPG to just take Jerablous — thus sealing the border through which foreign Jihadists have been joining ISIS for several months.
The AKP won a comfortable victory in the early elections odf Sunday 1st November. With 49% Of the votes and 317 seats out of 550, President Erdogan has regained control of Parliament, which he lost in the June elections. Winning 10 points more than in the previous election, increasing its score in 84 of the country’s 85 constituencies, the party won back the 3 million votes it had lost last June. The strategy Mr. Erdogan adopted has this paid off — by refusing any alliance that could have enabled the formation of a coalition government, the AKP will be able to continue running the country on its own. However, he has not secured the 367 members of parliament needed to amend the constitution without needing a referendum for the “Presidentialised” constitution Mr Edogan wants.
How did this victory, which upset the forecasts of all the opinion polls, take place? First ly by hunting for votes in the areas and adopting the policies of the ultra-nationalist MHP party, using a far Right rhetoric based on tension and fear, and specially by attacking the Kurds as the “enemy within”. Indeed, in publishing the election results, the opposition daily headlined the as “The Victory of Fear”. And it was certainly the MHP that lost most heavily in this election — 2 million votes, mainly to the AKP. This political about turn did not arouse any internal discussion with the AKP — any moderates who might have opposed it had been purged months before.
The second large vote loss was sustained by the pro-Kurdish progressive organisation the HDP, which scored a million votes less than in June, as the HDP had been designated the main enemy by the AKP throughout the summer. After the Suruç suicide attack by ISIS activists, the PKK had made the mistake of braking its unilateral cease fire to execute two Turkish police, accused of having collaborated with ISIS in preparing that operation.
Whether it really was a PKK action or a provocation, the Turkish government exploited the situation to the full, using it to justify a completely disproportionate military attack that virtually amounted to renewing an all out civil war as in the 90s.
The air strikes against the PKK in Iraq, and against those of the PYD in Syria replaced thse against ISIS, which was completely ignored. In parallel, the HDP was again subjected to the usual accusations of having links with the guerrillas and, by implication, of being terrorists — while ISIS was hardly mentioned Even in its Kurdish stronghold of Diyarbekir, the HDP’s score dropped from 79.2 to 72.7%. was the only town of the “South-East— Sirnak where the HDP maintained its previous score.
Indeed, it seems that some more conservative Kurds, having voted for it in June were scared bythe renewal of the civil war in their region and of its continuing if the AKP did not win, and so played safe by voting AKP
The AKP also had the matchless advantage of being in power. It this used this to claim an almost unlimited use of the media: 20 hours on the TRT channel for Mr Erdogan, 30 Hours for his party — and only 18 minutes for the HDP, 5 hours for the CHP (kemalist) and 70mnutes for the MHP. If that was not enough, the party in office took the precaution of taking control of the media that did not support it — or having them attacked by its supporters.
Whereas, after the Ankara bomb attack, campaign activities in public places were reduced to a minimum (in particular by the HDP, targeted by the two earlier attacks, that wished to protect its supporters) this all out media plugging played a major part in the AKP’s victory.
Moreover the campaign and the actual poll tookplace in an atmosphere of extreme tension, especially in Kurdistan. The inflammatory declarations by Mr. Erdogan and by Prime Minister Davutoğlu and many AKP candidates, mingling islamist and nationalist references that were sometimes openly threatening to the Kurds, were accompanied by concrete acts of violence by the security forces, assisted by some auxiliaries of very suspicious nature. Hundreds of HDP offices were attacked throughout the country and many HDP candidates arrested. At an election meeting in Van, the Prime Minister made threats of the “return of white Renaults” — a reference to the cars used by the death squads, at the end of the 90s, to kidnap Kurdish activists they then killed. To make his remarks clearer Mr. Davutoğlu added “the unsolved crimes will recommence…”
In the centre of Diyarbekir, the “capital” of Turkish Kurdistan, where, on polling day the walls still bore the scars of the fighting between young activist and the police in mid-October, the police were deployed even inside some polling stations — a measure of intimidation denounced by the HDP leaders in Siyarbekir. Cizre and other towns with a Kurdish majority population were placed under a curfew and placed under a virtual siege by the Army for up to den days, with tanks and helicopters. Some mysterious hooded police auxiliaries, who called themselves the “Lions of Allah” cried “Allahu Akbar” as they carried out attacks on Kurdish towns and quarters — a behaviour more evocative of islamist organisations like ISIS than the police forces of an allegedly secular State . . .
As Selahettin Demirtaş, the co-president of HDP pointed out, the campaign was “neither fair or equitable”.
Following the announcing of the election results, the AKP was quick to draw the conclusions and confirm its “militarist” line regarding the Kurds: “If the government must take measures regarding the Kurds they will carried out unilaterally — we don’t need the HDP any more” stated an AKP cadre at Diyarbekir, adding “From this evening on there is no longer a Kurdish question in Turkey”.
Nevertheless, while the HDP has suffered a set back it was not a collapse. It maintained a score of 10.4% — slightly more than the 10% threshold needed to be present in Parliament. This threshold had been introduced into the Constitution after the 1980 coup d’état with the sole purpose of preventing the Kurds from being represented in the country’s Parliament. Yet, if the HDP representation has dropped from 80 to 59 seats, its maintenance in parliament in such an unfavourable context could be considered a success, that marks the permanence of this new political force, both progressive and representing the Kurdish population in the Turkish political landscape
In such a violent context, it is probable that the newly elected Kurdish Members of Parliament will, as in the 90s, find themselves exposed to all kinds of pressure and that the AKP’s victory will not really be a guarantee against the assassination of Kurdish activists.
On Saturday 28 November, Tahir Elçi, a well known Kurdish lawyer and head of the Diyarbekir Bar Association, was killed by billet in the head.
Elçi wanted to hold a Press conference in Diyarbekir to draw attention to the destruction caused by the incessant acts of violence of the previous four months. He chose the little road in the Sur quarter, and old walled town now part of Diyarbekir, where the four-pillared minaret of the Sheikh Mutahhar mosque is located. This building that sates back to about 1500 is well known in the town and had been seriously damaged by gunfire during the clashes between the young Kurds and the police. Well known for his restraint, Elçi was distressed at the turn being taken by the “anti-terror” campaign adopted by the government following the June elections and extended at a security meeting run by the Prime Minister, on 4 November.
In this chain of violence, many towns of Turkish Kurdistan have been subjected to curfews — sometimes of weeks on end. These include Diyarbekir, Hakkari, Mardin, Sirnak and Van. The week preceding Elçi’s death, the curfew had been imposed on 26 different quarters of Hani and Lice, in Diyarbekir Province. For nearly two weeks the town of Silvan, under a curfew, had seen tanks and police snipers hunting members of the YDG-H (an organisation of young PKK fighters, often dug in behind barricades and trenches) and firing at numerous civilians. According to the Human Rights association (IHD) over 100 civilians have been killed since July during clashes between the security forces and the PKK.
Elçi was shot just after saying: “We do not want clashes, guns and operations in this historic place”. Last August, while receiving a delegation of journalists he had clearly expressed the opinion that the armed conflict should remain ouside residential areas. He blamed the acts of violence on both the security forces and the PKK. He had recalled that the Geneva conventions applied to States as well as to armed groups. Four days before his assassination, he had signed a joint statement with the head to the Mardin Bar Association calling on the PKK to leave the residential areas.
Elçi unhesitatingly criticised the PKK strategy — for all that he was no friend of the State. He had represented hundreds of victims of the Turkish security forces before the European Court for Human Rights: residents of villages shelled in 1994, people who died while in detention by the police or the Army, victims of torture, children crippled by anti-personnel mines . . . He had won many cases there against Turkey, he was also the lawyer f many journalists recently arrested, including the Iraqi Kurdish journalist of Vice News, Mohammed Rasool, who is still in jail after the expulsion of his British colleagues.
After stating, on CNN Turk that the PKK was not a terrorist organisation but “an armed political movement that sometimes resorted to actions of a terrorist kind and which employs considerable support in society” a charge was levelled against him by an Istanbul Public Prosecutor of “terrorist propaganda”. He was released pending trial and was assassinated although he was under judicial control and forbidden to leave the country.
Witnesses report that some unknown attackers opened fire on Elçi and on about 40 other activists as the Press conference was ending. The police exchanged some shots with the attackers without wounding any of them.
A police officer was killed and eleven people injured during the shoot out, including some journalists and two policemen, one of whom later died of wounds. The Diyarbekir Governor’s Office stated that Elçi was killed during the exchange of shots, but his lawyer, Yunus Murat, stated that the head of the Bar association had been killed by the police. The HDP, moreover, made a statement incriminating the AKP — the party in office. The official new agency, Anatolia, stated that the assassination was carried out by the PKK, while President Erdogan declared that he was saddened by Elçi’s death, adding “This incident shows that Turkey is right in being determined in its struggle against terrorism”.
Nevertheless, the KCK (Union of Kurdistan Communities), an organisation linked to the PKK, condemned the murder of Tahir Elçi and stated that the videos taken at the time of the assassination clearly show the responsibility of the police, one of its commanders telling one of the attackers to flee before being seen. These videos have spread like viruses on Turkish Internet.
Following the lawyer’s death, over 50,000 people , including lawyers coming specially fronm all over the country — including the President of the National Council of the Turkish Bar, Metin Feyzioğlu, followed his coffin, which was covered by a Kurdish flag. Clashes broke out with the police in many places, where angry crowds shouted “You can’t kill us all” and “The State be brought to account for this”. The police used tear gas and water crannons to disperse the demonstrators. The US Embassy in Ankara expressed its shock, describing Elçi as a “brave defender of Human Rights”. The International Federation for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch demanded an independent inquiry into the lawyer’s death.
The widely read daily paper Hurriyet compared Elçi’s murder with that of Vedat Aydın, a member of the Human Rights Association, IHD, and leader of the pro-Kurdish party of the period, the HEP, who was kidnapped from his home in July 1991. Aydin was found dead a few days later, and his body showed signs of having been tortured. This was the first case of those “murders by persons unknown” so characteristic of the bloody 90s. While those years have often been condemned by present day governments, they have never sought to bring those responsible to account. At the beginning of the month a retired colonel of the Gendarmerie and seven other members of the security, forces were acquitted of the murder of 21 Kurds during that period.
A further worrying fact in this context: a few days before Elçi’s assassination, the HDP announced that its co-President, Selahettin Demirtaş, had just escaped an attempted assassination. After spending a day travelling round Diyarbekir, his companions found a 3cm-long mark of an impact on the rear window of his car, which they said was just at the level of the passenger’s head. Fortunately the bullet did not go through the window as it was armoured. The Diyarbekir Governor’s Office stated that it was not the impact of a bullet, preferring to talk of “a blow from a very hard object”, and stating that “during his stay in Diyarbekir, Demirtaş had enjoyed police protection and that at that time there had been no attack on him or his vehicle”.
Are we seeing the beginning of a fresh period of “murders by persons unknown”? The Kurds, for their part, have always called these “murders by well known people” — namely the killers of the Turkish authorities’ paramilitary forces.
A very moving ceremonytook place on 23 November at the Erbil Conference Centre to commemorate the 4th anniversary of Danielle Mittterrand’s death.
Before over a thounsand people, including several ministers and Members of Parliament, President Masud Barzani, just returned from the Sinjar front, recalled the crucial role Danielle Mirrerrand had played in arousing awareness of the Kurdish tragedy in the 80s and 90s.
“It was the first time I saw a non-Kurdish person weeping at the fate of Kurd like a mother saddened by her children’s’ misfortunes” he testified. “That is why we call her the Mother of the Kurds and why we mourn her death and will never forget her” said Masud Barzani.
The French Consul General, M. Alain Guépratte, in a notable speech in French and in Kurdish, spoke of the rich history of French-Kurdish friendship, and the excellence of these relations as illustrated by President Hollande’s historic visit to Erbil and by France-Kurdish cooperation, including military.
Gilbert Mitterrand, the guest of honour, opened his speech in these terms: “My dear Brothers and sisters, as I feel I must call you, since we share the same mother”. He then recalled how his mother had taken the Kurdish cause to heart and how she spoke about it at family gatherings but also with public figures she met officially as the Republic’s First Lady and as President of the France Libertés Association.
Taking the floor in his tern, Kendal Nezan recalled the most outstanding moments of Danielle Mitterrand’s thirty-year commitment in support of the Kurds: her support of the creation of the Paris Kurdish Institute as from 1982, sending observers to the trials of Kurdish activist in Turkey in the 80s; her visit to the refugee camps of Iraqi Kurds in Mardin and Mus in May 1989; her journey’s to Moscow and Washington to make Mikhail Gorbatchev and George Bush aware of the Kurdish tragedy; her support for the international Conference in Paris in October 1989, then the one organised in on 27 February 1991 at the US Senate, with the participation of eminent Senators (Edward Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Paul Simon, Clairborne Pell) who later became the pillars of the “Kurdish lobby” during the Kurdish exodus of April 1991.
Throughout this period, Mrs. Mitterrand played a decisive role in favour of France taking a diplomatic initiative to save the two million displaced Kurds. This led to the adoption of Security Council Resolution 688 authorising the creation of a Kurdish protection zone — a zone that evolved into the present Federated Kurdistan. In May 1991, Mrs Mitterrand visited the Iraqi Kurds, travelling via Iran, to show her concern to provide thenm with some humanitarian aid, delivered by what was literally an air bridge. Thus, her Foudation, together with the Kurdish Institute, arranged with the French National Printing Press, to produce 300,000 school books in Kurdish and paid the wages of the teachers for the 1991-2 School year.
A year later, in 1992, she visited Kurdistan accompanied by Bernard Kouchner,, at that time Secretary of State for Humanitarian Activity, to attend the opening session of the recently elected Kurdistan Parliament to make it known and legitimise it. In the course of this visit, while on her way to Halabja, she was targeted by an attack and several of the Peshmergas ensuring her safety, were killed — but she announced that this would not prevent her from returning to Kurdistan.
In 1994, at her request, President Mitterrand invited representatives of the two Kurdish parties engaged in fratricidal fighting, for peace discussions at Rambouillet. The agreement thus achieved enabled a long truce. It was renewed and make permanent in 1997 by the then US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who, by ensuring that Kurdistan received 13% of the value of the Iraqi oil sales, carried out in the context of the “Oil for Food” programme enabled the inter-Kurdish reconciliation to be stabilised on firm economic bases.
Kendal also recalled Danielle Mitterrand’s journey to Erbil in October 2002 for the session of the re-united Parliament and her last visit in October 2009 where, after inaugurating some schools named after her in Erbil and Suleimaniuah she addressed the Kurdistan Parliament, making a speech that was broadcast on television, which was, in effect, her political testament.
The Kurdish Institute’s President also briefly recalled that Mrs Mitterrand had also done much to internationalise the case of the Kurdish members of parliament, including Leyla Zana, jailed in February 1994 in Ankara for crimes of opinion. The Kurdish resistance in Iran also enjoyed her support — particularly during the funerals in Paris of the bodies of the Iranian Kurdish leaders assassinated in Vienna (July 1989) and Berlin (September 1992).
In conclusion Kendal Nezan stressed how much Mrs Mitterrand, both in France and internationally, was identified with the Kurdish cause. She had made aware of this cause public figures like Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Lila. To such an extent that, at a dinner organised in June 1994 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy, President Clinton said to her: “Madame, please talk to me bout the Kurds. This is a great opportunity for ne to learn from such a knowledgeable person as yourself”. Consequently for one and a half hours, the conversation between the two presidential couples was about the Kurdish question.
A short fifteen-minute documentary illustrated and completed the highlights of her commitment with considerable extracts fron her testamentary speech to the Kurdistan parliament.
Thethe general secretary of France Libertés recalled the present day actions of his Foundation regarding the Kurdish people. He then handed the Danielle Mitterrand Prize to the Peshmergas , fighters for the freedom of the Kurdish people to a Woman Captain of the Kurdish Special forces.
The whole ceremony, broadcast on three Kurdish television channels, ended with a moving elegy for Danielle Mitterrand composed by Sican Perwer, whose Foundation was one of the initiators of this event, with the support of the Kurdistan government.
On 19 November the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain (Zinemaldia) took the unusual measure of making known publicly by a communiqué, its condemnation of a legal decision, expressing the solidarity of those taking part with the person sentenced. This is the Iranian Kurdish film director, Kaiwan Karimi, 30 years of age who had taken part in an earlier film festival with his short film Zan va shohar karegar (The advntures of a married couple).. This stand folllows the sentencing, on 13 October, of this young filmmaker to six years imprisonment and 223 whip lashes by a judge of the 28th section of the Teheran Revolutionary Court.
“The San Sebastian Festival thus expressed its categorical opposition to the Iranian Revolutionary Court’s sentence of the Kurdish director Keywan Karimi ” in the words of the communiqué.
Born in Banehm in Iranian Kurdistan, in 1985, Karmi gained a degree in communication from the faculty of Social Science of Teheran University. His documentaries and fiction films, several times won prizes, and often contain elements of sociological research, like his 18mm documentary, Broken Borders, made in 2011, that describes the lives of Kurdish smugglers across the Iraqi-Iranian borders.
It is well known that the political division and the lack of development in Iranian Kurdistan gives a special economic importance to this smuggling, which in 2000 had already been the subject of a film by Bahman Ghobadi “A time for the exhilaration of horse”. Broken Borders was shown at the Sofia Film Festival last March and at the 7th Kurdish film Festival in London in November 2011. The judge, Muhammad Moghis, accused Karimi of having “insulted shared values” and of carrying out propaganda for “illicit relations” as well as “contact by kissing”. Karimi, who has succeeded in contacting an Iraqi Kurdish television and press agency, denied the charges against him. “I made a film about the government, the social situation, the graffiti on the walls and about workers”, he stated. According to Karimi’s lawyer, Amir Raisyan, his client was, in fact, sentenced for a scene in which a married kissed one another, whicxh was included in the films synopsis but was not filmed since the actress involved refused. “One cannot be punished for something that didn’t happen”, Raisyan added. However the court also used some scenes in one of his earlier films, a documentary called Diwar (Wall) that dealt with urban graffiti as grounds for accusing him of propaganda against the political system.
Karimi has appealed against his sentence and is at the moment on probation. He is pessimistic about the way the court will treat his appeal. Indeed, the context is worrying as his arrest seems to be part of a general wave of repression against intellectuals, artists and journalists. Thus a few days after the Zinemaldia communiqué, on 22 November, an Irano-American journalist, Jason Rezaian, working for the Washington Post since 2012, was sentenced to a so far unspecified term of imprisonment for spying, after spending 488 days in jail before trial.
At about the same time as Karimi, the Iranian poets Fatemah Ekhtesari and Mehdi Moussavi were sentenced to 11.5 and 9 years imprisonment respectively as well a 99 whip lashes each. At the beginning of November, a freelance journalist, Isa Saharkhiz, a former Minister of Information under ex-President Khatami, was arrested at home and charged with “insulting the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and propaganda against the regime”. Ehsan Mazandarani, director of the daily Farikhtegan, was also arrested.
“My sentence is a message to the whole Iranian artistic community that nothing has changed following the nuclear agreement” Karimi stated.
In Iran prisoners often spend a long time behind bars before being sentenced, without knowing the verdict. Thus another Kurdish political prisoner, Shahram Ahmadi, arrested in April 2009 at Sanandaj, capital of Kurdistan Province, has spent 3years in detention awaiting trial. He was unable to see a lawyer before his trial, which took place in October 2012 and was sentenced to death after a 5 minute hearing for “hostility to God” (moharebeh). His brother, Bahram, aged 17at the time was arrested four months after him and sentenced to death together with nine other Iranian Kurds. He was executed on 27 December 2012. All, like most Kurds, are Sunni Moslems whereas the prevailing Iranian religion is Shiite.
As Shahram had appealed, the Supreme Court quashed the original sentence and sent the cast to — the 28th section of the Teheran Revolutionary Court, — which sentenced him to death again. His second sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court mid-October, without his being able to receive a copy of the verdict so as to know what were the precise charges against him. Accused of being a member of a salafist group, Sharam was, in fact, arrested in the course of a wave of arrests of Sunni Moslems, mostly Kurdish, that took place between 2009 and 2010. Arrested on his way home by Guards of the Revolution, wounded by a bullet and beaten up before being taken to hospital for interrogation, Shaheam Ahmadi says he was regularly tortured to force him to “confess”.
Amnesty International has called for letters to be sent calling for the cancellation of Shahram Ahmadi’s sentence to the Supreme Guide, Ali Khamenei and to the Minister of Justice, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, before 8 January.
On the 16th of this month the women’s commission of the Kobané “canton” of Syrian Kurdistan announced it had voted for some laws banning polygamy, the premature marriage of young girls and “crossed marriages” in which a man secures the hand in marriage by agreeing to give his sister in marriage to his fiancé’s brother. Kobané canton covers the town itself and about a hundred villages around it, and is one of the three autonomous administrative divisions of Syrian Kurdistan or Rojava (which literally means “Western”, i.e Western Kurdistan) set up by the Syrian Kurds in 2013. The other two cantons are Jeziré, to the East, which corresponds with Syria’s Eastern “duck’s bill” bordering Iraq, with the town of Qamishli (Qamishlo in Kurdish) on its Turkish border and Hassaké to the south. To the West is the third canton, which corresponds with the region and town of Afrin, which lies North-west of Aleppo, up against the Turkish province of Hatay (the ottoman Sanjak of Alexandretta).
The Kobané canton is the second of Rojava’s cantons to adopt laws protecting women’s rights, as Jeziré had adopted similar laws a year before in November 2014. Apart from banning polygamy, the new laws specify the equality of men and women at work, including equal wages. Moreover, women must be at least 18 years old to marry and cannot be given in marriage against their will. Finally the decree specifies that women have the same right as men to give evidence in court.
All these measures clear declare a radical opposition to the discriminatory ideology of ISIS and the other terrorist organisations, which as we know do not hesitate to forcibly marry women and use those considered to be “unbelievers” as sexual slaves, and simply murder those too old to be used in this way. The many mass graves of Yezidi women found in Sinjar after its liberation bear witness to this revolting practice. Moreover, the Jihadist organisations apply legal principles to women derived from Islam’s mediaeval past, in particular regarding their shares of any inherited wealth. In contrast, the laws adopted by the Kurds of Jeziré and Kobané also specify the equality of women in inheriting goods.
In view of the inequalities that women face in a Kurdish society still very marked by patriarchal practices and powers, these legal decisions and order as well as the initiatives of civil society are playing an important role initiating development. Alongside these laws that are gradually being passed in the different Rojava cantons, there are other examples of the way the Kurds are involved in this evolution.
Thus in Turkey, the only party run by two co-Presidents, a man and a woman, Selahettin Demirtaş et Mrs. Figen Yuksekdag, is the HDP, a party that is not only a political representative of the country’s Kurdish community, but also has become for some time the representative of a variety of other minorities (often non-ethnic, like minority sexual orientations) — an orientation that links with progressive values. Not only does the HDP have this co-leadership at the top but, even more importantly, it was the only party, at the last two elections, to systematically present two-person teams, consisting of a man and a woman, in every constituency. It is probable that this practice , like the determination to broaden the themes of political action as compared with the previous pro-Kurdish parties, has contributed to the HDP maintaining its presence in the Ankara parliament by broadening its electoral base.
In Iraqi Kurdistan, action to defend equality of women’s rights has, this month, been connected with the UN worldwide campaign following the “International Day for Eliminating Violence to Women” on 25 November.
The UN had arranged to conduct a 16-day campaign, from 25 November to 10 December (Human Rights Day) — “16 days of activity against sexist violence”. In Kurdistan, this campaign began with a conference at which members of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) took part, as well as NGOs.
The Secretary of the High Council for Women’s Affairs, Pakhshan Zangana, stated that the process should be carried out every day and not just on one day a year and stressed the situation of the Yezidi women affected by the struggle against the Jihadist ISOS oeganisation. Pour priority is to provide them with psychological help” she declared. Regarding society in Iraqi Kurdistan in general, she added that, despite the work carried out, statistics showed, unfortunately, ma far too high number of forced marriages of young girls, and acts of sexual violence, mentioning that people displaced as a result of the war with ISIS and who are at the moment in camps in Kurdistan were particularly vulnerable to this kind of violence. Indeed, the KRG’s Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, who also took part in the conference’s opening, stress in his speech, on the fact that, while acts of violence pf this kind had diminished, they had not regressed sufficiently for them to be satisfied.
Another conference organised in the context of the cultural festival Galawêj that takes place every year in Suleimaniyah, took place on 22 November in that Kurdistan city entitled “Women in the Front line: between victims, representation, political participation and the struggle against terrorism”. Run by Nazand Begikhani, a recognised poet and Human Rights defender, as well as a University researcher on gender issues, this conference enabled a debate in which took part, inter alia, the French sociologist Juliette Minces, the feminist writer Sophie Mousset, the author of a biography and four stage plays about the revolutionary Olympe de Gouges, the British researcher Gill Hague, co-author with Nazand Begikhani, Aisha Gill and Kawther Ibraheem of a report dated 2010 on “honour crimes” in Iraqi Kurdistan and in the Kurdish diaspora in the United Kingdom (Honour-based violence and honour-based killings in Iraqi Kurdistan and in the Kurdish diaspora in the UK) available of Bristol University’s web site.
Feminists in Iraqi Kurdistan continue fighting against these crimes, many of which have never yet led to a trial, the matter being “settled” by tribal arrangements. This explains why changes in legislation are not enough, even though indispensible. Thus the Iraqi Kurdish Parliament has, over the last two years, amended, with respect to the KRG’s administrative region many Iraqi laws dating from the Saddam Hussein period, covering discrimination against women, particularly some that gave the authors of “honour crimes” the benefit of “attenuating circumstances”.
For the first time, the Gelawêj Festival awarded a “Gender Equality Prize” and chose to give it to Nazand Begikhani. The latter thanked the Festival for the prize, that she said she considered less as a personal reward but “as recognition of the struggle of Kurdish women against social and political oppression while they are fighting terrorism and the ISIS Jihadists in the Middle East”. She added “There is a change in the collective mentality of the Kurds and signes of progess towards freedom, gender equality and social justice within the Kurdish communities. The women of Kurdistan have already achieved a great deal so far, but we still have a long way to go”.