On Tuesday 5 July, the town of Qamishlo was declared the capital of the new Federal Region of Northern Syria, which had been proclaimed by the Kurdish Democratic Unity Party (PYD) and its allies of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on 17 March last. Representatives of the Federal Region’s authorities justified their choice of this town on the grounds of its multi-ethnic and multi-denominational character, which reflects that of the region as a whole, including, as it does, Kurds, Arabs, Turkmenians and Christians. On the previous Friday, 1st July, the proposed “social contract” had been published as the basis for a future Constitution for the Federal Region. This document lists all the ethnic groups living in Rojava ad ensures their cultural, political and linguistic rights. Its must now be discussed throughout Rojava before being adopted. After which General Elections would be held within three months of adoption — electoral committees have already been set up and have started working in preparation.
On the 13th Hediye Yusuf, co-President of the Constituent Assembly of the “Rojava Federal System”, re-iterated the position taken by the Federal Region’s authorities regarding Syria as a whole by declaring that setting up this Region would in no way divide the country but would primarily ensure its autonomy while setting a a good example for the governance of the country as a whole.
“We think that a Federal system is the best form of government for Syria”, she declared. “We see that in many regions of the world a Federal framework enables people to live freely and in peace within their country’s territorial borders. Syria’s inhabitants can also live freely in Syria. We will not allow Syria to be divided — all we want is the democratisation of Syria so that its citizens can live in peace and enjoy and cherish the ethnic diversity of the various national groups that inhabit the country”. Hediye Yusuf also pointed out that while the United States and other members of the anti-ISIS Coalition were cooperating militarily with the SDF none had politically supported the setting up of the Federal Region. The authorities envisage, therefore, continuing diplomatic activity to this end and, thus, planned to open a Rojava Representative Office in the United States in the next three months or so.
The need for making the situation of the Kurds in Syria better known was demonstrated by the tenor of the statements made on 29th June last during the Press Conference held by the UN Special envoy, Staffan de Mistura, regarding the Kurdish population of Syria. Mr. de Mistura had publicly stated that the Kurds were only 5% of the country’s population, a gross under-estimation. Despite the absence of recent statistical data, geographical experts are agreed in estimating it at about 15%. The Kurdish could only express their astonishment and their hope that the UN Special Envoy would take more care, in the future, about collecting accurate data needed for carrying out his mission.
These institutional advances in concretely setting up the Federal Region are being pursued alongside the war against ISIS. Since the beginning of the month, as a result of the operations to take Manbij launched last June, there has been fierce fighting in this town, whose control is bitterly disputed between the SDF and the Jihadists. On the 3rd ISIS had advanced in a Southern quarter of the town and recaptured a village To the Northwest of it, and there was intense fighting around the yown’s silos. The SDF state they had not retreated but it is clear that the fighting was very fierce. On the 31st the SDF stated they controlled 40% of the town and were continuing their advance.
As is clear from the recent bomb attacks in Europe, the fact that the Jihadists are losing ground in the military field does not, unfortunately, mean that they ar not a danger outside the territories they control. This was again shown in Qamishlo, with the deadliest suicide bomb attack in that town since the beginning of the civil war in March 2011. Claimed by ISIS, it caused 27 deaths and 140 injured.
In Iraq, as in Syria, the Kurds are in the front line of the struggle against ISIS. The Peshmergas are constantly repelling Jihadist attacks: at Makhmur, to the West of Kirkuk on the 2nd, again two days later, and then again on the 23rd. On the 21st at Tel Afar, West of Mosul, ISIS used mortar shells containing chlorine and several Peshmergas had to be sent to hospital. However, it seems the really big operation to retake Mosul is approaching — on the 31st the former Governor of Mosul stated that it could be launched in September. As from 12 July, in preparation for this, a military agreement (Memorandum of Understanding) was signed with Baghdad’s approval between the US and the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. It foresees Peshmerga participation and their pay by the US for the whole period of the operation, specifying that they will withdraw from the areas captured from ISIS as soon as then operation is ended. However, this last point being a very sensitive one, the Peshmerga Minister made the point that this withdrawal only covered the operation in the Mosul region and in no case covers all the areas retaken from ISIS since 2014 — or those where the Peshmergas took control at that moment to prevent ISIS taking them over, especially those round Kirkuk…
While Masud Barzani has proposed a referendum on self-determination for the Kurdistan Region, the question of the future of Kirkuk Province has become a an immediate issue. If Kurdistan leaves Iraq, what would happen to Kirkuk? The Kurds hope to integrate the Province with the Region and consider the city, which they call the “Kurdish Jerusalem”, as their “natural capital”. The other ethnic constituents of the city’s population, however, namely the Turcomans and Arabs, have other ideas. The Kurdistan Regional Government constantly says that the rights of the Turcoman and Arab would be better observed in Kurdistan than in a Shiite Iraq, hoping that the majority of the Province would decide to join the KRG. Moreover, as it is feared that the attack on Mosul would provoke another flood of displaced people (even as much as two million!) the Province’s authorities are concerned about the half-a million who had fled ISIS and were still living as refugees in the Province. The majority of these are Sunni Arabs from the regions of Tikrit, Baiji, and al-Anbar and while these areas have since been liberated from the Jihadists, only 30,000 families have so far returned home. Many of these displaced people complain of a lack of help from the central government, while the Province’s authorities implicitly accuse Baghdad of using the situation to continue Saddam Hussein’s policy of “Arabising” the areas — especially as the Iraqi Minister of the Interior has twice asked them to issue the displaced persons with local residential identity cards. The Province ended by sending an ultimatum to the Central Government to repatriate the displaced people within a month.
While the 2005 Constitution lays down that an Iraqi moving into another Province can secure residence there (and thus vote) its article 140 provides for a special process in the areas forcibly Arabised under the Baathist regime, like Kirkuk. Here the ex-colonists should return to the region they originally came from with some compensation and then a referendum should be held on the region’s future. However, this process, which should have ended in 2007, was never fully carried out and the referendum never held.
It is thus easy to understand the suspicions of the Kirkuk authorities, who also point out that an agreement with Baghdad provided for the return of the displace people to their home regions once ISIS had been driven out.
Corruption could also be an issue here: although the European Union has just granted Iraq 104 million euros for the displaced people, and a meeting of donors in Washington has promised 5.2 billion dollars to help reconstruct the areas recaptured from ISIS, the Sunni Arab leader Mashaan Al-Juburi has gone as far as recommending that the international donors should avoid giving the aid to the government but rather contact the local authorities concerned! Possibly in reply to this, on the 26th the Iraqi Minister for Development and Migration stated to the Turkish News Agency Anatolia that about 1 million of the displaced people had returned to their homes — but that 3.7 million had not yet.
In anticipation of the referendum, everyone is taking up their starting positions. Thus, on 7 July, Masud Barzani welcomed to Erbil (for the first time in 16 years!) the leaders of the Iraqi Turcoman Front (ITF) with whom relations had, hitherto been rather strained. This Kirkuk political organisation that covers six Turcoman parties officially supports (as does the Kurdish Provincial Governor Najmaddin Karim) the creation of a semi-independent Region, even though some of its members are in favour of joining Kurdistan. A week later, on the 13th, the Arab political groups organised in the `Council for the Arab Republic or Iraq” who made public a road map for the Province, which would give equal administrative powers to its three principal ethnic groups and would give it wider autonomy from Baghdad … but in the context of remaining in Iraq.
This position adopted by the Council could have a considerable impact on the result of any popular consultation. While the city of Kirkuk has a 50% Kurdish population also includes 20% Arabs. As if by accident, on the 26th the Iraqi Parliament adopted a Bill increasing the powers of the Provinces and giving them the legal means to create semi-autonomous regions endowed with substantial political and administrative powers — a decision that could enable the Sunni Arabs to create a Region similar to that of the KRG.
A Kurdish Member of Parliament, Arafat Karim, stated about this proposal that it was the first step towards “a post-federal system, that is to say a Confederation”. Could Iraq thus try to offer the Kurds a “Confederal” alternative to independence?
Be that as it may, even the holding of a referendum on self-determination is still uncertain. On the occasion of the Eid (the end of Ramadan Festival), on the 6th, Masud Barzani renewed his call to the Kurdish political parties to meet and discuss the issue, also expressing the hope of progress in resolving the Region’s political and institutional deadlock that has lasted since October 2015. This is, as the Kurdistan Electoral Commission has just recalled, while it can, technically organise such a popular consultation in four months, it cannot legally launch the process until Parliament officially orders it to by passing a law — this so long as Parliament is not sitting the organisation of a referendum is impossible.
Similarly on 12 July the Government was unable to prolong the anti-terrorist law to fight ISIS, as it had wished. Passed in 2014, and already renewed for two years, the law expired on the 16th. On being consulted, the Shura (a kind of consultative State Council) finally decided it could not renew it, proposing instead the use of other laws such as the Criminal Code. Six parties of the Kurdish Region had published a common stand opposing any prolongation of the anti-terrorist law unless passed by Parliament.
Whereas the Kurds are faced with political opportunities that are also so many challenges, intra-Kurdish unity seems even more necessary than ever. Speaking in Erbil on Saturday 30 July, during a visit there by the Middle East Research Institute (MERI), Mustafa Hijri,, General Secretary of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) recalled this need with regard to Eastern Kurdistan (Iranian Kurdistan or Rojhelat): “We really need Kurdish unity because we are fighting for the civil and human rights of the Kurds in Iran”.
However this unity seems all the more difficult to find as the political stakes become higher. The fault, clearly, lies in major internal disagreements between the various Kurdish political forces — but also because of external actors who do not hesitate to use the Kurds to advance their own interests. This factor is increasing, as is the role of the Kurds in an increasingly unstable Middle East. The call for a referendum on self-determination launched by President Masud Barzani last February has probably worried several countries and amplified that manoeuvres aimed at dividing the Kurds. The Iraqi Prime Minister, Hayder Al-Abadi, has stated that the time chosen was “inopportune” and the Iranian consul expressed his country’s opposition while the United States reaffirmed their support for a federal Iraq… Nor is it an accident that the form Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri Al-Maliki, a member of the Shi’ite Da’wa Party, should chose, on the 17th, to visit not Erbil but Suleimaniyah to meet representatives of PUK and the opposition Goran Party.
If the politicians are divided, public opinion clearly supports Independence. During the 2005 election, 99% of the voters expressed their support for a “Kurdexit”. A recent poll carried out by the researcher Deniz Ciftci on the voting intensions in the Region shows that the differences essentially cover the resolution of internal political problems: 92% of those voting expressed support for independence in the event of a referendum, though in Suleimaniyah most of the people questioned hoped that the internal political problems be solved first, and especially that Parliament should be re-activated and resolve the question of the Presidency. Otherwise they would not go to vote.
It is true that the differences have built up over the last year, especially when the question of extending the Presidential term of office was not resolved by discussion between the political parties. President Masud Barzani’s tern of office, already extended by two years in 2013 reached its expiry date on 19 August 2015. The region thus found itself fully at war with ISIS while the Parliament in Erbil should revise the Constitution, which alone could a decision on the route to follow.
The Shura Council offered the advice that the present President should remain in office till the next elections. Although the legal strength of this consultative advice is challenged by the PUK and Goran, the KDP has pointed out that a political vacuum just at this moment would endanger the Region, especially as there were differences over the kind of regime to be adopted. The PUK and Goran (particularly strong in Suleimaniyah Province) want a Presidency with limited powers, elected by Parliament whereas the KDP (mainly rooted in the Provinces of Erbil and Dohuk) defends the idea of direct election by universal suffrage (which it is certain of winning) of a President with substantial powers. Neither of the two camps having enough seats in Parliament to impose its point of view has created the status quo, at the price of serious internal political tensions fanned by the serious financial crisis caused by Baghdad’s failure to pay Kurdistan its share of the national budget as specified in the Constitution.
Following demonstrations and attacks on its offices where some if its cadres had been killed, the KDP accused the Goran movement of having stirred up these acts of violence and, on 11 October 2015 forbade Yusuf Mohammed Sadiq, the Speaker of Parliament and a member of Goran, to come to Erbil to and carry out his post. Two days later the Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani (KDP) suspended the Goran ministers from his government, replacing them with members of his own party. The Erbil Parliament has thus been unable to meet for 10 months and the many meetings of the different political parties have failed to provide a compromise.
The KDP wans a new Cabinet excluding Goran members while the Speaker of the House refuses to resign and the PUK truing to act as mediator. On 17th of last May, a reconciliation between Goran and the PUK was made official by a ceremony at which the two parties announced the fusion of their Parliamentary group. On 22 June they announced the formation of a new committee of their members to create coalition blocks in the Iraqi Parliament and on 11 July they announced at the Suleimaniyah Provincial Assembly the creation of a new coalition called “Hawa” (Hoe).
The disagreements also cover the content of the referendum: the KDP announced on the 18th that is wished to include the provisional constitution at the same time as the question of independence in the referendum. Goran then stated at a meeting with the Kurdistan Islamic Union (Yekgirtû-î Islamî) that its leader, Nawshirwan Mustafa, would agree to replace the Speaker of Parliament and support the referendum — but what about the constitution? The KDP wants it to give extensive powers to the President — Goran is opposed to that…
These internal tensions of the Kurdistan Region go side by side with different orientations at regional level, particularly regarding Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan). Contrary to the KDP, the PUK recognises the PYD administration of Rojava, which has an office an Suleimaniyah, while the KDP has special links with the Kurdish National Council of Syria (KNC), formed in 2014 and made up of 16 parties, which is opposed to the PUD. Consequently the KDP, based in the North of Kurdistan, has good relations with Turkey, whereas the PUK and Goran, whose base has a common border with Iran, has much tenser relations with Turkey.
None are more aware of the necessity of unity than the Peshmergas, today fighting ISIS along a 1000 km border. On 17 July some of them, posted on the Kirkuk front, said on the Kurdish NRT Channel that they hoped the political leaders would put an end to their internal struggles and sit round the same table to resolve their differences as is don’t in the field:
“We are Kurds from Jalawela (near Khanaqinm on the Iranian border) at Kobané” one of them said. On the same day, several parties if the Ieaqi Kurdistan Regionalso launched an appeal for a return to negotiations to resolve the political differences in Kurdistan. The political parties “must be united and in solidarity”, stated Mahmoud Sangawi, a member of the PUK Political Committee. Ali Hussein, a member of the KDP leadersip stated that for his part “We hope that all (the parties) take into account the interests of the people if Kurdistan”; while Karwan Hashi, a member of the Goran National Council stated that “The only way to resolve the problems is to sit and negotiate, but that will not produce results without preparation”.
Some positive signs? During the month of July, positions seem to be getting more flexible on both sides. On the 4th the PUK, acting as mediator, indicated that Goran was ready for a compromise with the KDP, in particular over the issue of the Parliament’s Speaker. At the end of the month the Kurdistan Presidency’s chief of staff, Dr. Fouad Hussein, met the Gemera; Secretary of the PUK Political Committee, Mala Bakhtyar, in Suleimaniyah then twice met Gorran’s general co-ordinator, Nawchirwan Mustafa. On Saturday 3rd, the Speaker of Parliament announced he was ready to resign his post in order to reduce the tension and restore a more stable and democratic system of governance. For his side Sarbast Lezgin, a KDP leader stated that his party was ready to negotiate a new inter-party agreement so as to reactivate the Parliament. It is to be hoped, in the interest of the Kurdistan Region, that these statements will rapidly be followed by concrete results.
On 2nd July, the second in command of the Guardians of the Revolution, Brigadier General Hussein Salami, issued a warning, apparently directed at the political leaders of Iraqi Kurdistan, calling on them to “observe their commitments regarding the security of West Iran” and threatening to launch operations on the KRG’s territory should they fail to do so. This statement comes a few days after the KRG had demanded an end to Iranian shelling of its land. The KRG reacted forcibly by condemning these remarks and threats as being “contrary to friendly relations” between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan. Two days later the Iranian consuls in Kurdistan tried to defuse the tension by reducing these sharp exchanges to simple “misunderstandings”, adding that “the Iranian Government would never threaten the Kurdistan Region”. At the same time, the KRG representative in Teheran, Nazim Dabbagh, declared that he had been informed by the Iranian authorities that these declarations were not aimed at the Kurdistan Region but to groups carrying out attacks on Iran.
This incident occurred at a time when discussions were being resumed between the KRG and the Islamic Republic regarding a project to build a pipeline that would enable the Kurdistan Region to export 250,000 barrels of oil a day to Iran. This oil, coming from Koya would be refined in Kermanshah, in Iranian Kurdistan. Although this project was started in 2004, after the Iraqi central government had stopped paying its share of the federal budget to the KRG, Baghdad had expressed its support, on condition that the oil from Kirkuk be included in the deal. From the KRG’s point of view, this pipeline would enable it to diversify its export channels and be less dependent on Ceyhan (Turkey) and also perhaps be paid more rapidly — the Ceyhan payments are made via Baghdad, causing considerable delay. Another issue due to be discussed between the Kurds and the Iranians is the management of their common borders.
Following these exchanges, the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) announced on the 3rd that it would reinforce the security of its bases in Iraqi Kurdistan in response to the Iranian threat. It also announced that it would meet the KCK to strengthen their cooperation. (The KCK is an offshoot of the PKK whose role is to co-ordinate work with parties that follow Abdullah Öcalan’s idea of “democratic confederalism”.) This co-operation could then be extended to the PJAK (Party for the liberation of Kurdistan) — an Iranian Kurdistan party affiliated to the PKK that has about 3,000 fighters, half of whom are women.
On the 6th, various sources report a reinforcement of the military organisation of the Iranian borders opposite the Iraqi Kurdistan town of d’Haji Omran, Iran replaced the border police with infantry units of the Revolutionary Guards, heavily armed with tanks, missiles and artillery. According to the Kurdpa News Agency, units of the Al-Qods brigade have also taken up laying mines in Kurdistan near the town of Meriwan. These are Russian mines, small but very dangerous and are there in addition to the hundreds of unexploded mines and booby traps left over from the Iran-Iraq war.
On Sunday 10th the KDPI distributed leaflets in several Iranian Kurdistan towns calling on shopkeepers to lower their shutters for the whole day on the 13th in protest at the State’s policy of terror. The same call was widely made via the media and social networks as well. The KDPI pointed out that in the last few days there had been many arrests of innocent civilians and that large numbers of heavily armed Revolutionary Guards had been deployed in all the Kurdistan towns. This one-day strike also coincided with the date of the assassination, in 1989of the KDPI leader, Abdulrahman Ghassemlou, by envoys of the Islamic Republic.
Amongst the examples of the repression daily experienced by those living In Iranian Kurdistan we can cite the recurring problem of the kolbars. These are Kurdish porters who earn their living by transporting goods between Iran and Iraq. Regarded by the police as smugglers, they are regularly arrested and sometimes executed. According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) two kolbars in the region of Sardasht were killed by the police in the middle of the month and two others near Chaldoran (Chaldiran) by border guards while 3 others were seriously wounded.
Parallel to this the repression of intellectuals continues: on the 27th the Kurdish Sunni man of letters, Shahram Ahmadi, was sentenced to death in a trial that only lasted a few minutes, confirming a sentence that had been passed in 2012 by the Revolutionary Court. Ahmadi was arrested in 2009 during the visit to Iranian Kurdistan by the Supreme Guide, Ali Khamenei, and had been wounded by a firearm during his arrest.
On the 18th, the Iranian President, Ruhani, also made an official visit to Iranian Kurdistan, where he was welcomed by a small number of inhabitants — and protest slogans! His visit was punctuated by clashes and protests despite the security forces in several towns in Kurdistan — as happened also during his visits to Baluchistan and Ahwaz.
On the same day, Amnesty International sent a warning to Iran regarding its policy regarding prisoners, accusing the regime of taking advantage of the health problems of political prisoners to force them into silence by selectively giving medical treatment. In a report entitled “Health taken hostage: Cruel denial of medical care in Iran's prisons” the organisation gives an account of many cases of intentional abuse of prisoners of conscience.
The attempted coup d’état that occurred on the nights of 16 and 17 July has not slowed down the series of control measures taken continuously by the AKP government under President Erdogan’s orders. Quite the contrary, the event has provided him with the perfect opportunity for still further accelerating his drive towards ever more complete power. It is thus important not to forget what was happening before the famous night of the 16th in any account of the month’s events, since they show that the path taken by the government after the failed military putsch was already under way during the fifteen days before it.
Thus late in the evening of 30 June the Turkish government passed a law re-organising the judiciary — a law that made Erdogan’s opponents fear that it would still further increase his stranglehold over it. The new law, indeed, dismissed most of the 711 Judges of the Supreme Court of Appeal and the State Council (the body with jurisdiction for hearing complaints by citizens against the government) thus giving Erdogan the power to appoint a quarter of the judges of this Council. This law followed on major changes made the month before to the composition of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, which also appoints part of the Judges of the State Council, by transferring 3,700 Judges and Prosecutors. The CHP (People’s Republican Party) had announced it would make an appeal against this law to the Constitutional Court but it does not have much time in which to do so as once the new appointment have been made by the High Council, even an appeal could not cancel them. Moreover the Judiciary already worked much in the way wanted by the Turkish President. For example six lecturers of Mersin University saw their contracts annulled on the 8th, some were charged with the now customary charges of “insulting the President” or “terrorist propaganda” simply because they had sent messages on the social media criticising government policy. One of them was charged as president of an NGO supported by the HDP led municipality of Akdeniz. They all face 15 to 20 years imprisonment…
Lso on the 8th, two days before the opening in Istanbul of the 40th Session of the World Heritage Committee, the organisation Europa Nostra, the Hague based European Federation of organisations for cultural heritage, wrote to Mrs Irina Bokova, the General Director of UNESCO, ti draw her attention to the destruction caused by the military operations in Turkish Kurdistan. Signed by its President, Denis de Kergolay, the letter states in particular: “An important example is the walled city of Sur, the historic centre of Diyarbekir, declared a historic conservation site since 2012 and (…) a world heritage site by UNESCO since 2015 (where) in accordance of a law passed in March 2016, the majority (over 80%) of the buildings should be expropriated. (…) Some important areas have been razed to the ground by bulldozers and transformed into wasteland and empty streets in quarters that contained hundreds of sites of cultural heritage. Over twenty-five thousand people have sought refuge outside the city. Dozens of historic monuments have been damages or destroyed including the church of St. Guiragos, whose exemplary restoration had received a European Heritage Prize in 2015, granted jointly by Europa Nostra and the European Union”.
The writers ask UNESCO to remind the host country of the World Heritage Committee of its of its obligations and ask the competent authorities sin Turkey to observe the human rights of the inhabitants and the standards of rehabilitation of heritage by adopting “a participative approach in close cooperation with the municipalities concerned, the professional organisations and the inhabitants”.
Unfortunately Turkey is hardly noted for its participative approach to its citizens. On the 11th the Human Rights Watch organisation recalled that the country had still not authorised the United Nations enquiry mission to enter its Kurdish region. O the contrary Turkey had sharply reacted on the 12th to a photographic exhibition about the YPJ and YPG (Syrian Kurdish men and women fighters) organised in the European Parliament. The Presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, stating “It is unacceptable that the European Parliament indulges in propaganda for a terrorist organisation that daily targets Turkish citizens”.
On 14th the provincial governor imposed a curfew on 16 villages in the Silvan region while the Minister of the Interior ordered the stripping of the two co-mayors of the town of Mazıdağı in Mardin Province, accused of supporting the Kurdish rebels. A prosecutor started an enquiry after a municipal vehicle had been used on 9 July in a car bomb attack against the gendarmerie that had killed two soldiers and wounded 12 others. In the last 12 months 22 mayors, all members of the Democratic Party of the Regions (DBP) have been imprisoned and 31 others stripped of office for their presumed support of the PKK — with which the DBP denies any collaboration.
During the night of the 15/16 July, part of the Turkish Army tried to carry out a military coup against Mr. Erdogan’s government. The Air Force seems to have played a major role in this. The events began at about 10 pm with helicopters and Air Force squadrons flying over Ankara and Istanbul. Tanks also appeared in the streets and soldiers took up positions at Taksim and the Bosphorus bridges at Istanbul. The army putschists took control of the public television until 2 am, broadcasting a communiqué proclaiming martial law and a curfew on the whole country. In Ankara the Turkish Parliament, the Presidential Palace and the Prime Minister’s residence were bombed by fighter planes as well as the Headquarters of the Special Forces at Gölba, this time by helicopters, killing 57 police. However President Erdogan, who was on holiday in a hotel at the seaside resort of Marmaris escaped being arrested and probably death (narrowly, it appears) and succeeded in reaching Istanbul by plane at about 4.30 am despite two attempts at interception by putschist airplanes.
From the airport and using his mobile phone he called on his supported to come out on the streets, accusing the network of supporters of his former ally, the preacher Fethullah Gülen of responsibility for the putsch. Gülen has been in exile in the United States since 1999.
In Istanbul and Ankara there were clashes between Army putschists and loyal units and Erdoğan’s supporters. At about 5.30 am loyalist F-16 fighters bombed rebel tanks surrounding the Presidential Palace. In the early hours of the morning some 200 putchist troops surrendered to the loyalist forces. According to figures published the next day by the Armed Forces Chief of Staff, 104 putschists were killed and over 2,800 troops arrested, including General Erdal Özturk, commander of the 3rd Army. The Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, for his part announced casualties from the street clashes as 265 deaths, 1,440 injured including an undetermined number of civilians and the arrest of 2,839 troops.
On 28 July the Armed Forces General Staff established the number of troops involved in the putsch at 8,651 members of the Armed forces (about 1.5% of the total) with 24 fighter planes and 37 helicopters, 37 tanks 246 armoured vehicles and three ships on the Navy. The main reason for the failure of the putsch is clearly that the Army as a whole had not follow the coup. The judicial authorities have announced that 2,745 judges throughout the country would stripped of their powers. According to the Turkish TV network NTV, Alparslan Altan, one of the 17 judges of the Constitutional Court has been placed in detention. None of the opposition parties has shown any sympathy for the putsch. From the day after the attempt the two co-Presidents of the HDP, Figen Yüksekdağ and Selahattin Demirtaş, published a statement entitled “The only solution is a policy of democracy!”:
“In these difficult and critical days that Turkey is going through, no one may put themselves forward in place of the people’s will, whatsoever be their reason. The HDP is opposed to any form of coup d’état in all circumstances as a matter of principle. Turkey must immediately adopt a pluralist and liberal democracy, internal and external peace the universal values and conventions of democracy”.
However Erdoğan does not seem to have chosen this way. As from the 17th he spoke on restoring the death sentence —the HDP specifying that it was opposed to this. The on the 20th, the Council of Ministers established a three month state of emergency, described by President Erdoğan as “necessary to eradicate rapidly all the elements of the terrorist organisation involved in the attempted coup d’état”. This state of emergency will allow the President to suspend the most elementary rights and to legislate by decree, bye-passing Parliament The Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Numan Kurtulmuş, announced that, in applying Article 15, Turkey would ignore the European Convention on Human Rights for the period of the State of emergency.
At the end of July the number of people suspended or arrested since the coup d’état is estimated at: 50,000 soldiers, policemen, judges, civil servants and teachers, …99 generals (of the 360 the country possesses) have been formally charged for their role in the attempt, 14 others being in detention. The High Council for Turkish Education has suspended 4 university rectors, ordered the resignation of 1,577 Faculty Deans in both public and private universities and forbidden academics to travel abroad “to prevent accomplices from fleeing”. Continuing and increasing the retortion measures taken before the attempted putsch, Istanbul University has deprived 95 academics of their posts, On the 23rd, the first Presidential decree following the declaration of the State of Emergency ordered the closing of 1,043 private schools, 1,229 charitable associations or foundations, 19 Trade Unions, 15 universities and 35 medical institutions — all suspected of links with Gülen’s movement. The decree has also increased the period of detention from 4 to 20 days. Mr. Erdoğan has also summoned a meeting of the Supreme Military Council for the 28th at the Presidential Palace (instead of the Army General HQ as Is usual). The decree has to be ratified by Parliament by a simple majority (which the AKP has) to become law.
Quickly accuse of complicity by Erdoğan, the Imam Fethullah Gülen denied, on the 18th, any involvement in the attempted coup. Indeed, while it only involved a minority of the Army, it seems to have been wider than just a single group. A kemalist group in the Army could well be accused of objective complicity, but the muddled organisation of the attempt suggests that the putschists acted in a hurry to forestall a purge being prepared against them of which the learnt too late. In view of the speed and extent of the arrests launched as from the day after the attempt, the hypothesis of such a purge seems very likely. As from the day after the attempt the Anatolia News Agency announced that the Prosecutors had issued warrants throughout the country for the arrest of 2,745 judges and prosecutors. As many university staff wrote na letter distributed by HDP and addressed to Federica Mogherini and Thorbjørn Jagland, General Secretary of the Council of Europe: “The lists of people to be arrested were ready well before the coup d’état was launched” also pointing out “Certain reports say that the imprisoned people cannot find lawyers — no one dares accept to defend them for fear of finding themselves included in the purges”.
The turn taken by these events is thus very worrying and, as several international press organs “they are perhaps the more worrying than then coup d’état itself”. Erdoğan’s very disproportionate response amounts to a “civilian putsch”, making use of the craziest sources of information like this circular distributed to all the provinces by the Office of General Security, accusing the Gülenists of having prepared an attack on Imrali Island where Abdullah Öcalan the PKK leader, has been imprisoned since1999 to incite the PKK and the Alevis to attack the other Turks and provoke a civil war. (Indeed, the HDP had asked for access to the island to check on Ocalan’s state of health as he has been in solitary for several months.) The same circular states that the PKK would launch an attack on the HDP…
Selahattin Demirtaş has talked about “an attempted putsch against some putschist”, describing Erdoğan’s policies as “a civilian coup d’état to rule society through elections following war, violence and shelling towns — all just as illegal as the putschists attempt to seize power by military means, with tanks and guns”.
He also pointed out that the Kurdish guerrilla had abstained from taking advantage of the situation to strengthen its position in the field. Demirtaş also criticised the rioters supporting the AKP, some of their extremists had lynched some unfortunate conscripts, and expressing his fear that Alevi, Kurdish and left wing quarters might become the targets for their violence. He pointed out: “The danger of coup d’états will not end so long as the Kurdish question is not resolved peacefully and an institutional democracy with a liberal constitution are not working. However I think that there is little chance of this happening because the AKP has always used these opportunities to consolidate its power rather than in favour of democracy”.
Indeed, warrants for the arrest of 42 journalists were issued on the 25th, then again on the 27th against 47 members of the staff of the daily Zaman. On Monday 26 Erdoğan received the opposition parties — except the HDP.