Turkey is continuing its forced march towards a “hyper-Presidential” regime with the strengthened powers that President Erdogan is calling for.
To eliminate any obstacle to this transition from with his own camp, Erdogan has unhesitatingly got rid of one of his most faithful supporters by orchestrating, as from August 2014 the removal of the Turkish Prime Minister. Thus, on 5 May, Ahmet Davutoğlu announced his resignation as Prime Minister during an extra-ordinary Congress of the AKP Party, which took effect on the 7th.
Ever since Mr. Erdogan was elected President, Mr. Davutoğlu had on several occasion carried out negotiations without sufficiently consulting the Turkish President. In particular was his acceptance that refugees who had reached Greece from Turkey be sent back as well as his opposition to the trial of some journalists of the daily paper Cumhuriyet, Can Dundar and Erdem Gül, and the criminalisation of the academics who signed the petition “We will not be party to this crime”. However, his is said to have widely shown his lack of enthusiasm for the “hyper-Presidential” project. Thus Erdogam pushed someone more docile forward. Thus, on the 22nd Binali Yıldırım, well know for never expressing any political opinion that differed from that of his mentor was elected President of the AKP by 1405 of the 1470 delegates present — which automatically opens the way for him to being Prime Minister…
The second obstacle to Erdogan’s project is the existence of a pro-Kurdish opposition in the Turkish Parliament. To end this, ob the 20th the Parliament passed by 376 voies out of 550 an “anti-immunity law”, debate of which ha started on the 17th. Only 140 members voted against it. The proposed new Bill presented by an AKP now totally following President Erdogan’s orders, will allow the lifting of parliamentary imunity for M.P.s subjected to legal charges. The self-satisfied President immediately describesd this decision on TV as a “historic ” one, declaring: “My people do not want guilty members in Parliament, especially those supporting separatist terrorist organisations”. From which it can be understood that it is not aimed at AKP members suspected of corruption (a “club” of which the new Prime Minister is said to be a member…) The aim is thus clearly to driving the HDP out of Parliament by accusing at least 51 of its 59 elected members of links to the PKK”. Following thr vote, both the HDP co-Presidents, Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, stated that this was clearly the aim and expressed the fear that this law would be “a crucial stage in replaFing Parliamentary democracy (…) by a system of Presidential absolutism”.
It is true that under the present Turkish legal system it is very common to be charged with links with the PKK and thus with terrorists — as has recently been the case with the 1,128 academics who signed the petition “We will not be party to this crime”. All that is needed is to dare publicly to criticise Erdogan’s warlike policy in the country’s Kurdish regions…
Eyyup Doru, HDP representative in Europe, also thinks that Erdogan is aiming to use this lawto secure the invalidation of the HDP members of Parliament or even to hold by-elections in the country’s Kurdish regions that would enable him to replace them by pro-AKP— so as to pass his constitutional “reform”. It is noticeable that most of the towns undergoing a state of soege are exactly those where the HDP scores its best votes.
The “anti-immunity” law was not passed without struggle — including physical one. Real punch-ups took place on 2 May between AKP and HDP Members during a meeting of the Constitutional Committee set up to discuss the Bill, which followed on the clashes that had occurred on 29 April. The day after the law was padded the Kurdish M.P.s announced the intention of appealing to the Constitutional Court — one of the country’s rare official bodies that are not yet controlled by Mr. Erdogan and his supporters. To do this, however, they would need the support of 51 MPs from other parties.
It can be asked what hope there can be placed in the Turkish legal system today. Mr. Erdogan has succeeded in acquiring personal control of it so as to gag any critics. In addition to issuing charges against all the signatories of the previously mentioned petition, those who enquire too closely into the State’s political machinations are also being sued. Thus, on 6 May Erdem Gül et Can Dündar, members of the editorial staff of the major daily were sentenced to 5 years and 5 years and 10 months im prison for having “revealed State secrets” following the publication of an article, backed by videos, which made public the involvement of the Turkish Secret Services in the supply of arms to Syrian Islamist rebels. When this verdict was announced the US State Department expressed its concern and called on the Turkish government to show more respect for the media “essential elements in any democratic and open society”. The two journalists have announced their intention to appeal. Moreover, a man armed with a pistol unsuccessfully tried to assassinate Can Dündar, in front of the Court House in the middle of Istanbul and in broad daylight, just before the verdict was announced.
Alongside journalists, lawyers are also being targeted in an apparently endless cycles of judicial procedures: on 16 March 9 lawyers were arrested because they had accepted to defend — 46 of their colleagues! The latter are being sued for having defended Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK.
At the same time, Kurdish political leaders are being prosecuted. On 11 May the co-President of the Party of Democratic Regions (BDP), Kamuran Yuksek, was placed in detention in Diyarbekir on the decision of the local Public Prosecutor. A number of BDP leaders had already been arrested in Diyarbekir on 9 April, following a police raid on their party’s premises, during which several members of the KJA (Free Womens’ Congress) were also arrested.
At a more commonplace level, Prosecutors, under orders from above, have started to busy themselves with cases of “insults ” and “libels” directed at the President’s person. According to the figures given by the Minister of Justice, Bekir Bozdag, himself, thye started proceedings against 1,845 people between Erdogan’s election as Head of State in August 2014 and last month… Although insulting the President has always been an offence punishable by four years in jail, its use has never been as widespread as it is today! Sometimes the facts on which the charges are based seem utterly ridiculous. Thus on 1 Maya writer, Bekir Bozdag, was tried for “insulting” Erdogan because of an article in which he wrote that the President had renewed the conflict against the Kurds for electoral reasons. If expressing such an opinion is an insult, then attacking the evidence for it also becomes liable to imprisonment.
The Turkish winner of the Nobel Prise for Litterature, Orhan Pamuk, who took part in the trial to support Belge stated that “he had enough of having to go to court to bear witness at all the trials against himself and his friends”…
As fro the acts of violence committed by the security forces in the country’s Kurdish regions, it is evidently useless to expect the Turkish legal system to enqire into them — were such a thing occur, the government would have to draft a Bill to protect them from against proceedings for actions undertaken in the course of military operations.
Faced with the evident deterioration regarding the observance of fundamental Human Rights in Turkey, reactions by the European Union reamin singularly tepid. At best the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, stated om 22 May, a few days before her official visit to Turkey, that she was concerned that “withdrawal of immunity from Members of Parliament could have serious consequences” for Kurdish men and women in politics, also expressing her regrets that “the process of reconciliation with the Kurds had been interrupted last year”…
However, the person who shouted and stormed loudest in the discussions was Mr. Erdogan himself, who launched in to a violent attack on the European Union, demanding that Turkish citizens be able toenter Europe without visas — this restricting the field of action against terrorism. Regarding an organisation in Europe he said was close to the PKK and with offices close to the EU, he declared that the law should be toughened. “You allow terrorists to pitch their tents near the European Parliament and you expect us to alter our law?” After Angela Merkel repeated her remarks on her return from Turkey, the Turkish President’s economic advisor, Yigit Bulut, threatened to “take economic measures”, such as to “put an end to the customs union with the EU if the latter failed to keep the promises made to Turkish citizens”, adding “all the agreements could be suspended, including the customs union”.
On the 11th, Volkan Bozkir, Minister of relations with the EU, had already stated that no previous agreement had provided for such a change and that the law in question “was already in keeping with EU standards”.
EU leaders, already concerned by the departure of Prime Minister Davutoğlu, considered more flexible, can only be further worried by these statements. Moreover, certain AKP members have clearly threatened to “send back the refugees” if the EU made “the wrong decision”.
Why does Erdogan attach so much importance to securing the entry of Turkish citizens to the European Union without visas? Is it because, as Robert Fisk ironically asked in The Independent of 29 May because so many Turks dream of going to Europe on holiday? … Or is it rather because he hopes to resolve the Kurdish question in Turkey by driving into exile in Europe the millions of Turkish Kurds?
Seeing the present in the country’s Kurdish regions, it is particularly shocking that The World Summit on Humanitarian Action is being held in Turkey, at Istanbul between 23 and 24 May under aegis of the United Nations… As from the 20th, both co-Presidents of the “pro-Kurdish” HDP party sent a letter, in English, to the Secretary General of the United Nations Organisation, Ban Ki-moon: https://hdpenglish.wordpress.com/2016/05/23/letter-by-hdps-co-chairs-to-un-secretary-general-ban-ki-moon/).
They describe the context in which the Summit is being held “at a time when the fundamentals of democracy and of social peace are being seriously compromised by the violence of the authoritarian State in Turkey, while war and the humanitarian situation in the Kurdish region of the country are reaching an extreme gravity […] They also point to the responsibility for the present humanitarian crisis of Turkish policy towards Syria, while expressing the hope for a summit organised in the same way round the slogan: “One humanity , shared responsibilities”.
They further express concern about the worrying violations of Human Rights and Humanitarian law taking place in the country, even where the summit is being organised. Finally the signatories record their concern that “the holding of such an important meeting could be used by the Erdogan regime to cover up the flagrant violations of Human Rights and the crimes that it has committed in Turkey, with total disregard for humanitarian or legal responsibility”.
There has been no news to date of any possible reply by the UN Secretary General, but the good-will ambassador of UNICEF, the Turkish musician, novelist and film director Zülfü Livaneli, has not waited for one. He attacked the holding of this summit in Istanbul and resigned his role while sending an open letter to the Director General of UNESCO, , Irina Bokova. “Turkey is the last place in which to organise a Humanitarian Summit”, he explained. “International organisations should denounce the actions of the Turkish authorities in stead of promoting them by holding this Summit in Istanbul”.
In his letter to Mrs. Bokova, Mr. Livaneli wrote: “After the destruction of the historic heritage of Sur (the historic centre of Diyarbekir) hypocrisy reigns supreme at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. Speaking about peace and remaining silent when there are such violations contradicts the ideals of UNESCO”.
Unfortunately the Turkish Government, that certainly hoped to use the Summit to put up a good show in the face of the criticisms it is facing, only ended up by increasing the concern caused by its policy when it refused to sign the joint statement of the end of the Summit it had invited — a statement in which the participating countries reaffirmed their commitment to International Humanitarian Law.
Unfortunately the recent destruction of Kurdish historic heritage highlighted by Zülfü Livaneli, are only the latest of a long series. One can even talk about a longstanding historic well ib the Turkish Republic to ensure the disappearance of elements of non-Turkish heritage — especially Kurdish. Destruction takes place when organised neglect is not enough. When it is carried out by the security forces, as at the moment, the cause is part of its global policy towards the East. This is what the Municipal council of the Kurdish town of Batman tried to recall by organising major conference over the week-end of 7 and 8 May about the town of Hasankeyf, which was attended by the former Minister of Culture and Tourism, Ertuğrul Günay, academics, lawyers and members of Parliament, NGO representatives and other town’s public figures. The aim was to draw public attention to the danger of destruction of this historic city by the still programmed building of the Iliu Dam, which is part of the Immense GAP project (Güneydoğu Anadolu Projesi –The Southeast Anatolian Project), which has already had a major impact on that part of Turkish Kurdistan.
The Conference was organised in two parts: the first entitled “Hasankeyf and the Tigris Valley”, the second “Hasankeyf and UNESCO”. In this second part the historic and cultural wealth of this city was recalled in which flourish the civilisations of the Hurriates, Mitannians, Assyrians, Urartians, Medes, Persians, Romans, Byzantium, Umayyades, Abbassides, Seljoukides, Artukides et Ayyoubides…
If we were to add its natural riches, Hasankeyf fulfils 9 of the 10 criteria for becoming a UNESCO heritage — a demand that the Turkish government has studiously avoid making, while preparing to engulf the town in the dam’s reservoir lake. Indeed, this lake will also damage or destroy at least 300 archaeological sites upstream.
On the other hand the Turkish State put this project forward in the 50s as a source of hydro-electric generation until it tried to “sell” it as an irrigation and local enrichment project. A letter by President Ozal, made public in the late 90s showed that the main hidden objective of these dams was to make secure the Kurdish region — i.e. to ensure its control by the Army.
In addition to the heritage issue, Human Rights are also issue the direction recently taken by Turkey. At least one international body has recently shown a little courage to raise this. It is not the European Union, which has never tackled the issue of fundamental rights in its recent discussions with Ankara, hut the UN High Commission on Human Rights. On the 10th, its head, Zeyd Ra’ad Al-Hussein, asked Turkey to accept the arrival of a enquiry to check on the accusations of violations committed by the security forces, stating that they came from “a variety of credible sources”.
Amongst the breaches being examined are opening fire on unarmed civilians. While condemning the breaches committed by non-State actors linked to the PKK, Zeyd described the data regarding the actions of the Turkish security forces as “extremely alarming” and insisted that the authorities had a duty to respect Human Right, stating, inter alia: “The most worrying reports are those concerning citing witnesses and those close (to the victims) in the city of Cizre, which leads one to think that over 100 people were burnt alive, while hiding in three cellars of separate building encircled by the security forces”. He also attacked the blackout of news from the Kurdish region of Turkey, which “feed suspicions about what has happened”.
The “pre-Kurdish” HDP party published, a two days later, a statement signed by Çağlar Demirel and İdris Baluken, Deputy co-Presidents of HDP and members of Parliament for Diyarbekir, expressing their satisfaction following Zeyd Raad Al-Hussein’s statement and calling on Turkey to allow the UNO enquiry to seek information on breaches of Human Rights. The statement recalls that no local political figure or independent observer had been authorised to enter the areas under curfew.
Since last July, however, according to figures cited on 30 May by The Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Numan Kurtulmus, the fighting in the cities of Sur, Silopi, Cizre, Idil and Yuksekova has damaged 6,320 buildings containing some 11,000 flats at an estimated cost of 855 million Turkish lire (US$ 289 million). Moreover, the war situation provoked the flight of 355,000 displaced people and the Turkish Human Rights Foundation that some 338 civilians (including 78 children) were killed in the operations. Kurdish sources, however, cite that between 500 and 1,000 civilian deaths in these operations. On the other hand some 500 members of the security forces were killed. An international Enquiry into Turkish policy in Kurdistan is certainly essential.
Despite the promises that successive Turkish governments have made of “eradicating the terrorists”, PKK guerrilla actions targeting military or police objectives have continued throughout the month. As from 1 May, a PKK rocket attack on the district of Nusaybin caused 4 deaths and 14 wounded in an army unit clearing mines. Late the same evening, in the Dicle region, an explosion caused 23 wounded, (20 soldiers and three family members) near an Army command building. The next afternoon, a rocket and light arms attack on army control points at SSemdinli in Hakkari Province caused two deaths amongst the troops. According to the army, five Kurdish militants were also killed. Two days later, on the 4th, a gendarmerie post in the Derik region, n Mardin Province was attacked causing one death and four wounded amongst the troops there and one civilian injured. Other attacks took place throughout the month, especially at Nusaybin on the 8th (3 soldiers killed), at an unidentified location on the 10th, (2 police killed while trying to defuse a bomb. On the same day, at Diyarbekir, a police mini was hit by a bomb that killed at least 3 officers and wounded at least three 23 people, including many civilians. At Dağlica, (Hakkari Province) on the 14th, 2 wounded (one soldier and 2 Kurdish fighter killed) and on the 25th at Van (6 soldiers killed and 2 wounded during the ambush of an army convoy. Some units of Village Guards were also targeted as well as Turkish bases where they had been housed in Iraq, specifically to prevent Kurdish fighters returning to Turkey!
One of the deadliest explosions took place on 10 May at Dürümlu, a village in Diyarbekir Province, when a lorry undoubtedly loaded with 15 tons of explosives exploded as a result of clashes with local residents. The explosives were intended for use against a local gendarmerie post and the enormous explosion caused 16 deaths and 23 injured — all civilians.
On the 17th, the HDP co-President, Selahettin Demirtaş, Stated during a meeting of his Parliamentary group, that the PKK should apologise for this explosion: “The HDP has never remained silent when civilians were killed in this way and will not remain so”. Demirtas added that it was precisely to avoid the deaths of civilians that the HDP had tried to promote democracy” and that his party had not wanted the urban warfare that is now waging in Turkish Kurdistan.
On the 13th, the PKK announced it had shot down a Cobra helicopter gunship at 4.20 am in the Cukurca district (Hakkari Province), killing two soldiers. Six other soldiers had already been killed in fighting, for which the helicopter had been sent to participate. The Turkish Army announced the deaths of 6 soldiers following operations as well as 15 others in the Sirnak region. It attributed the helicopteer’s crash to technical problems.
Nevertheless this version became untenable after the PKK broadcast a video showing its fighters using a Russian ground-air Manpads missile launcher to shoot down the plane in flight. The Turkish army then ended up by admitting grudgingly on the 19th that the helicopter “might have been shot down by an unspecified weapon that could have been a missile” — that is shot down by the PKK.
On the 30th, President Erdogan, in a pane returning from a visit to Diyarbekir, accused Russia, before the journalist present, of supplying the PKK with anti-aircraft weapons, which would have been transported via Syria and Iraq.
On the same day it was announced that on the 18th, 4 soldiers had been killed and 9 others wounded in a PKK attack on an Army convoy — 4 of the wounded being in very serious condition.
On the 25th and 26th Army sources announced that 25 and 42 Kurdish activists had surrendered to the security forces while the PKK that it had withdrawn its activists from Nusaybîn, leaving only unarmed civilians in the town.
On the 20th PKK activists carried out several attacks on security forces throughout the day, causing 5 deaths. According to sources close to the security forces a remote-controlled bomb exploded near Van as a police convoy was passing, killing two officers and wounding another. The same sources broadcast information about other attacks. Some PKK snipers also killed a lieutenant on Sunday during an attack on the Kani Masi Turkish Army base in Iraq. Another Turkish base near Siirt was attacked and a police officer was killed in the Sirnak region. In Diyarbekir, a civilian and 5 members of a Village Girds unit were killed by a bomb at Kulp.
According to the Army, 500 members of the security forces have been killed in these operations as against 4,900 PKK fighters. The pro-Kurdish political parties asses that over 1,000 civilians have been the victims of the fighting. The limited access of the areas of conflict in the Southeast makes it impossible to verify any of these figures.
It should also be mentioned that on 2 May the TAK (Teyrênbazê Azadiya Kurdistan, Hawks of Kurdistan Freedom, a group that broke away from the PKK 2004) claimed responsibility for a suicide attack against the Bursa Great Mosque, carried out by a woman. It indicated that she had not been able to reach her original objective. The TAK has already claimed tow car bomb attacks in Ankara, on 17 February and 31 March and a mortar attack in December 2015 at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen airport.
In Syria, as in Iraq, the Kurds continue to increase pressure on the ISIS Jihadists. In Syria the announced target of the PYD Kurds and their allies of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)is the city of Raqqa, the self –declared capital of the Islamic State (ISIS). Despitethe fierce opposition of neighbouring Turkey, they seem to have secured the effective support of the US for a major offensive against this city. A success that would cut in tow the area ISIS holds.
On 16 May, the SDF spokesman, Tajir Kobani, announced that an attack on Raqqa was being prepared. Indeed, according to other sources, the SDF are now only 30 Km away from it. On the 24th, Roja Felat, the commander of the YPJ (women’s units affiliates to the PYD) explained in a communiqué that this action against Raqqa also included a defensive element — to prevent any attack by ISIS against the areas controlled by the Kurds and their allies, the Jezireh, or the towns of Gire Spî et Kobane. Indeed, Rojava, a stretch of land divided into two zones, not very mountainous or deep and with its back to a hostile border, namely Turkey’s, is strategically fragile and an advance Southwards would be a valuable defence.
On the 25th, the SDF announced that they had started their advance towards Raqqa by “cleansing” the Jihadists out of the rural areas to the North of the city, making the point that there was not yet any question of launching an attack on the city itself but rather of increasing pressure on ISIS.
On the 28th the PYD President, Salih Muslim, stated in an interview with the Russian News Agency Sputnick, that the liberation of Raqqa from ISIS was of vital importance for the PYD. Muslim again insisted on the city’s strategic and military importance, which makes its control by the Jihadists a serious threat to Rojava. Questioned about the possible inclusion of Raqqa in Syria’s Northern Federal Region, announced by the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) last March and mentioned again a few days earlier by another PYD leader, Muslim replied that there had not been any discussions on this issue. He said, however, that the management of the liberated city would be transferred to the civilian population who would decide the city’s fate. Muslim Nevertheless recalled that the Federal Project did not only cover Rojava but was intended to cover the whole country, which in turn required time to draw up a new Constitution. He nevertheless described interference by Turkey or any other country in Syria’s internal affairs as being “unacceptable” before stating that there was still danger of joint intervention by Turkish and Saudi Arabian ground forces in the country “in view of both countries’ contacts and substantial support of the ISIS terrorists”. He then expressed the hope that the Geneva negotiations, which he considered had not been stopped but just suspended, could start again after Ramadan.
On the 31st, a leader of the London-based Syrian Centre for Human Rights (SCHR) stated that of the previous two days the SDF had taken 12 villages from ISIS, to the Northwest of Raqqa, about 80 Km from the city itself. Indeed, ISIS is now caught in a pincers movement between the SDF offensive to the North and the advance of the regime’s troops from Damascus to the South. Furthermore, to the South, the Syrian Army garrison in the town of Deir-el-Zor is surrounded by ISIS but this siege can be broken if the Syrian Army continues its advance. In this event, communications between the two major cities held by ISIS in Syria and Iraq (namely Raqqa and Mosul), could be broken at yet another place.
From the Iraqi point of view, it is Mosul that now seems the next military objective of the KRG’s Peshmergas, even though ISIS is continuing to resist and is also fighting in the Kirkuk region. On May 1 the Jihadists launched a new mortar attack with chemical shells on the Peshmergas at Khazir, in the Kirkuk region. The Peshmergas and the Shiite Turcoman militia of the People’s Mobilisation Units have won the small town of Bashir back from ISIS. It is from this town that ISIS had launched several chemical attacks with on the town of Taza that had killed three children. The next day the Peshmergas repelled an ISIS night attack on Bashir following a fight that lasted until 2 or 4 am. On the 3rd, ISIS launched a fresh mustard gas attack on Bashir, injuring 13 Shiite militia, paralleled by a coordinated attack from several on the section of the front held by the Peshmergas, several suicide vehicles. Several attacks were on the Bashiqa front, 40 Km West of Erbil and others targeted Christian militia North of Mosul. Coalition air strikes took place. An American soldier was killed and two Peshmergas wounded, while a town held by the Kurds was briefly taken by ISIS. Another Jihadist attack using mortars and rockets against Tel Afar, to the East of Mosul was repulsed
The, on the 5th, ISIS launched a surprise attack towards Tell Skuf, in the Sheikhan area, some Km North of Mosul. This was an area controlled by the Peshmergas and Assyrian fighters of the NPU. ISIS’s success in seizing in taking part of the own provoked a flight Northwards by Yezidis from the surrounding villages, which are often only a few minutes walk away from the town.
On the 15th gain used chemical weapons in attacks on the Peshmergas. The use of such weapons had already been reported on the 9th. Then on Saturday 25th the Peshmergas repulsed a massive attack by ISIS activists near Kirkuk according to Colonel Tariq Ahmed Jaf: “The Jihadist attack on our positions was launched during the night. They attacked the Peshmerga fortifications near the town of Erl Rabaa (about 40 Km to the South of Kirkuk, but we sent reinforcements and succeeded in repelling the attack”. Later the same day the Peshmergas shot two suicide attackers who were trying to approach their defences round Mosul by mingling with civilians who fled from the area. The next day the Peshmergas announced they had shot down an ISIS drone surveying the area of Kirkuk near Bashiqa. According to Sirwan Barzani, Commanding the Gwer front, Southwest of Erbil, the Peshmergas also repelled a a five-man ISIS suicide bomb attack at 2.30 p.m. the same day on the Gwer front.
All these clashes took place in the context of the preparations for a coordinated attack on Mosul by the Kurdish Peshmergas and Iraqi soldiers. On the 4th, the UN High Commission for Refugees (HCR) expressed the fear that the attack on Mosul could provoke as many as 30,000 displaced person. A million civilians are still living in the city, which ISIS has held since July 2014. On the 17th, the KRG announced on its web site that 60% of the line surrounding Mosul was now the controlled by the Peshmergas who also controlled an important communication route connecting Mosul and Raqqa. On the 20th the Iraqi Air Force dropped leaflets on Mosul calling on the inhabitants to be prepared for the attack on Mosul to liberate it from ISIS by avoiding areas near the Jihadist organisation’s bases. It should be recalled that on the 23rd, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi, announced that the Iraqi Army had begun operations to retake the town of Fallujah, 50 Km Southwest of Baghdad. This was the first Iraqi city taken by ISIS in January 2014, so pressure on ISIS is also coming from the South.
On the 30th, the Peshmergas took control of 9 villages in the East of Mosul Province. The Kurdistan Security Council declared that 5,500 Peshmergas had taken part in the offensive that began on Monday 27th. Two of them were killed in the fighting. The offensives in this region are also aimed at liberating Qaraqoch, a Christian town that had 75,000 inhabitants before being evacuated and before being captured by ISIS early in August 2014. The Peshmergas estimate that they could retake it from ISIS within a month. Other villages originally inhabited by Kurds who followed other minority religions, Kakaï et Shabak, have also been liberated. These regions were controlled before the war by the central government, and the Kurdish authorities announced that when the referendum on self-determination of the Kurdistan Region takes place, these regions would be consulted about their wishes: whether to become part of Kurdistan or remain in Iraq as before. This would, obviously also apply to the city of Kirkuk.
As for the later fate of the city of Mosul, the Kurdish authorities remain much more cautious. They explain that while they may take part in taking it back from ISIS they do not envisage take any part in its control, which should be assumed by the forces native to the region — namely the Sunni Arabs.
On 6th May, the Kurdish region of Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) opened a representative office in Berlin. The opening ceremony took place with Sinem Mohammed, co-President of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in attendence, as she will be Rojava’s representative to Europe. Also Present were Sinem Mohammed, the PUK representative in Germany and several German Members of Parliament. The manager of this new representative office is Sipan Ibrahim.
Rojava’s first representative office opened at Suleimaniya, in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, then in Moscow, in Russia on 10 February last, then at Stockholm on 18 April. These representative offices have no formal diplomatic status but enable Rojava to carry out a “parallel diplomatic action” in a context where its administration continues to be officially ignored by the regions main actors. Thus the SDF had still not received an invitation on the 11th of the month for discussions with the International Support of Syria Group planned to take place in Vienna the following week. The mainly Kurdish alliance had already been excluded from the discussions in Geneva last April. The political expression of the SDF, the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) had announced a Syrian Federal Region in Northern Syria on 17th of last March, which included the three Rojava Cantons of Jezireh, Kobané and Afrin. This, however, had obviously not been recognised by the Damascus regime. Nor had it been recognised by the “official opposition — largely because of Turkey’s hostility.
On the 23rd, Rojava opened a fifth representative office abroad, this time in France. Located in the Rue de Rivoli, near the Paris City Hall, the representative office was inaugurated by many French public figures, including Bernard Kouchner, a former French Foreign Minister. Sinem Mohammed was present as the Rojava representative in Europe and in her speech she said that the priority of the Rojava authorities was “to defeat terrorism and create stability in Syria”.
Themanager of the new Rojava representative office in France, Khaled, stated that he considered it necessary that the Rojava administration (to date not officially recognised by France) and the French authorities co-ordinate their struggle against the common enemy, (ISIS’s) terrorism. He recalled that, in the period when France was the Mandatory Power in Syria, it had annexed the present areas of Kojava to the Syrian State — implying that as the former Mandatory Power it still had some responsibility for the future of this region.
On the 30th of last April, some Shiite protest demonstrators succeeded in entering the Iraqi Parliament in support of a statement by Muqtada Al-Sadr. They only agreed to leave the “Gtreen Zone” on 2nd May — again only on dl Sadr’s instructions.
These events aroused the anxiety of the Iraqi Members of Parliament, especially the Kurdistan MPs. The latter decided to leave Baghdad and on the 4th, Mrs Ala Talabani, Head of the PUK block in the Baghdad Parliament, made the point that their return would depend on political negotiations between Kurdistan and the central government. The day before Muhammad Ahmad, leader of the Islamic Union of Kurdistan and a former Baghdad MP had expressed his fears of a military coup d’état in Baghdad because of the situation reigning there: “The Kurds must organise themselves before the Iraqi chaos hits them” he said. At the same time the KRG Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, had warned that some changes should take place in the country’s political situation, stressing the necessity for unity between the Kurdish groups in the Iraqi Parliament.
On the 7th, the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Salim Al-Jabouri, travelled to Kurdistan to try and persuade the Kurdish MPs to return to the capital. A delegation of all the Kurdistan political parties is also due to go to Baghdad to discuss the recent tensions in and around the Parliament. However the Kurdish MPs announced that their position was that they would only return to Baghdad if their safety and status were ensured. It was only on 10 May that, after nearly 15 days interruption, that the Iraqi Parliament was able to resume its work — without the press being allowed entry to the building to report on it.
The issue of the return of the Kurdish Members to Baghdad, however, rapidly became more of a political issue than one of security. Indeed, during their discussions with the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament the Kurds laid down, as one of the conditions for their return, that thae central government accept the seld-determination referendum planned for the Kurdistan Region before the end of 2016. According to a well-informed source, theyare also said to have put forward other conditions such as Baghdad resuming sending the Region its share of the Federal budget, including a budget for paying the Peshmergas and carrying out Article 40 of the Iraqi Constitution. On the 16th, after a meeting held in Suleimaniyah, the Kurdish MPs included amongst their conditions for returning to Baghdad the setting up of a parliamentary session to which all the Iraqi political parties took part. On the 18th, the Kurdish Ministers of the Central Government announced that they would boycott the Council of Ministers while continuing to carry out their duties in their own Ministries.
Nevertheless, on the 21st there was another intrusion of Moqtada Sadr’s supporters, who succeeded in entering (forcibly this time) the Prime Minister’s Office — which evidently revived the anxieties about the security conditions in the capital! After several other, sometimes contradictory, statements by heads of the Kurdish parties it was still not clear on the 27th whether the Kurdish MPs would return to the Iraqi capital the next day for the parliamentary session planned to begin on the 29th, or whether they would attend the session even if they had returned. The Iraqi Parliament had, in fact, announced that the 29 May session was due to examine nomination proposals for several ministries submitted by Prime Minister Al-Abadi. Some Kurdish MPs demanded a preliminary meeting with the Prime Minister, while others opposed this…
On the 28th, however, the leaders of all the Kurdish parliamentary groups went to the capital to meet the Prime Minister who urged them to attend the next day’s session.
The Prime Minister also asked that the KRG send a delegation to Baghdad to discuss disagreements between the two Governments. During these discussions the Iraqi Prime Minister committed himself not to change any Kurdish Ministries and also promised to send funds for Kurdish agriculturalists and renew the dialogue to resolve the disagreements between Baghdad and Erbil.
Following the Prime Minister’s commitments, Many of the Kurdish MPs in Baghdad attended the parliamentary session on the 29th. On the 31st, the Kurdish Member of the Iraqi Parliament, Ashwaq Jaf, indicated that Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi, had decided to form two delegations to go to Erbil to negotiate a settlement of the outstanding problems between the KRG and the Central Government. One of these delegations would consist of government members while the other would consist of members of political parties, who would meet their opposite numbers in Kurdistan.
Is this just an another promise of settlement prompted by the danger of a “Kurdexit” from Iraq or is it a real advance in their relations?