The operation to take the town of Manbij back from ISIS, launched at the end of May by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with the support of the US-led coalition came to an end this month. On 1st August, after two days of rapid advance, the SDF announced they had taken back 70% of the town while the Jihadists, entrenched in the old centre, still held the Northeast quarters, with thousands of inhabitants trapped by the fighting. On the 6th, the SDF controlled 90% of the town. On the 13th, after the last Jihadists had fled towards Jerablous, on the Turkish border, 30 Km to the North the SDF announced they had taken complete control of Manbij. The ISIS fighters left the town without their arms but using over 2000 civilians (subsequently released) as human shields.
Faced with these advances by the Kurdish Democratic Unity Party (PYD) and the alliance where they play a major part through their YPG and YPJ fighting units, the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavuşoğlu, re-iterated on the 15th Turkey’s demand that the Kurds remain on the East bank of the Euphrates, stating that the Americans had promised them this. When the SDF announced on the 16th that it wanted to completely seal the Syrian-Turkish border to prevent ISIS from continuing to use it receiving arms and recruits, Turkey immediately moved into top gear to counter the Syrian Kurds. On the 22nd, only some hours after a group of Syrian rebels had announced the creation of a “Jerablous military council” aimed at fighting ISIS with the support of the SDF, its commander Abdulsattar Al-Jadr was assassinated. The Council announced it had captured two suspects and accused the MIT (Turkish Intelligence Service) of the murder. At the same time, Turkish-backed rebels mustered on the Turkish side of the border preparing to enter Jerablous, while Turkish artillery shelled the town and the adjoining areas.
A source from amongst these rebels spoke about 1,500 fighters, adding that their objective was to “capture Jerablous and advance Southwards so as to block the Kurds from any advance North of Manbij”. On the 24th at 4 am, tanks, special forces and Ankara-backed rebels crossed the border with air support from the “anti-ISIS Coalition” with the official aim of “clearing the boarder of ISIS”. However, the name Turkey gave to this operation, “The Euphrates Shield”, seems more to refer to its real objective — preventing the Kurds and the PYD from taking over the West bank of the river and so connecting their Kobanê canton (to the East) with Afrin (on the West). Moreover the Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yıldırım, stated that the region West of the Euphrates should be cleared not only of ISIS but also of the Kurds and the PYD — a demand also expressed by the Defence Minister, Fikri Isik. The operation also seems like a pre-emptive move to prevent an eventual Kurdish-American operation against Jerablous from the South.
This military intervention aroused many different reactions; while the pro-Turkish Syrian opposition obviously approved of it, the Rojava leaders accused Turkey of aggression, as did the Syrian Foreign Minister, who spoke of “violation of sovereignty (a term taken up by Iran) adding that “driving out ISIS to replace it by terrorists supported by Turkey is no way to fight terrorism”. The Russian Foreign Minister said he was “very concerned”. A source close to the PYD stated that, according to the inhabitants of Jerablous,, the anti-ISIS aspect of the operation was a bit of play acting — the Jihadists had not really fought but simply left the town in small groups going to — Turkey…. All they did was to change their uniforms before coming back! While there is no way of verifying this information, it does indeed seem that the groups that entered the town with Turkish support included many Islamist and even Jihadist factions like Faylaq Al Sham, Noordin Al Zingi, Jabhat Al Shamia, Liwa Al Fatah, Sultan Murad…
This fighting between two of their allies against ISIS has visibly embarrassed the United States, forced into doing the splits. On the 25th, Vice President Joe Bidden, on a visit to Ankara, stated that the Kurds had been informed, before the operation against Manbij, that they would then have to retire from the West Bank of the Euphrates and that the Secretary of State, John Kerry, had informed Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, by telephone, that they had started this withdrawal. For their part, the YPG stated they had transferred the control of all the areas taken from the Jihadists to the Manbij Military Council and their civil management to a Civic Council, both composed of residents of the town, before “returning to their bases” (without specifying where these were).
Nevertheless, on the same day fresh Turkish tanks entered Syria while the authorities indicated that “the military operation would continue until the threats to the country’s security had been removed”. The Turkish daily Hürriyet announced that the number of Turkish troops involved (about 450) could be increased to 15,000… According to the Anatolia News Agency, the tanks had fired “warning shots” across the YPG positions South of Jerablous. On the 22nd, the Jerablous Military Council, supported by the US and the SDF confirmed the artillery shelling and air strikes against its bases in the town, talking of a “dangerous and unprecedented escalation”. At the same time the US State Department recalled that it considered the SDF to be “trustworthy” partners in the struggle against ISIS and that it would continue to support them — including the Kurdish fighters of the YPG, a “critical component” of the SDF.
The next day clashes broke out between Kurdish fighters and the rebels supported by Turkey, causing the first Turkish casualties in the “Euphrates Shield” operation — a Turkish soldier killed and three wounded. On the 28th, during a demonstration in Kobanê warning Turkey not to try a military incursion, the Syrian Centre for Human Rights announced that at least 40 civilians had been killed and 75 injured by the Turkish artillery shelling, during the night at Jab al-Koussa and Al-Amarneh, 8 Km South of Jerablous. The Turkish Army replied that it had eliminated 25 PKK “Kurdish terrorists”. Turkish planes and artillery also bombed the Afrin region.
On the 29th, Brett Mc Gurk, the US President’s special envoy to the anti-ISIS Coalition stated that fighting between Turkish troops and SDF fighters was “unacceptable” and called on all parties concerned to stop and concentrate on the “common and deadly enemy”: ISIS. The French President, in a conference with Ambassadors expressed a similar position. Finally, on the 30th, during a Press conference at the Pentagon, the Defence Secretary, Ash Carter, again appealed to Turkey to stop striking the Kurdish fighters so as to concentrate on ISIS”. The Security deputy adviser of the White House, Ben Rhodes, declared for his part that continuing strikes against the YPG would make harder the setting up of a common front against ISIS.
On the same day an anonymous Pentagon source stated to AFP (Agence France Presse) that the YPG had indeed withdrawn to the East bank of the Euphrates and that if any Kurds remained on the West bank they were not YPG members.
For their part, the YPG denied having sent reinforcements to Manbij, stating that the only SDF reinforcements arrived to the town were not Kurdish fighters. The only Turkish answer to the American requests was from the Presidency’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, who stated: “The United States should review their policy of supporting the Kurdish forces at all costs”.
On the 31st, a US Defence official announced that an informal ceasefire agreement had been accepted by Turkey and Syrian Kurds. The White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, stated that Washington was relieved at the end of fighting “between different anti-ISIS factions”. A YPG spokesman confirmed the agreement but Turkey remained silent until the Minister for European Affairs, Omer Celik, denied its existence, adding that certain PYD elements had remained on the West bank of the Euphrates in an “unacceptable” manner — an adjective he also used regarding US criticisms of the Turkish operation.
While Rojava was being attacked by the Turkish Army in the North, the Kurds were also being confronted with the Syrian regime’s forces this month. On the 17th, fighting broke out at Hassakeh between the PYD Asayish (Kurdish police forces) and pro-government militia. As at Qamishlo, where similar clashes occurred last April, Hassakeh has Kurdish quarters to the East and quarters with an Arab majority population to the South, mainly controlled by the Kurds, with a few points held by Bachar El-Assad loyalists. The clashes are said to have started following a Southward advance by some Asayish and the attack by some pro-regime militia on one of their control points in Newsha, on the Southeast side of the town. The next day, two Syrian Air Force planes bombed some Asayish positions in the Northern quarters of the town. This is the first time in five years of civil war that the regime had used the Air Force against the Kurds.
On the 19th, the Kurds announced they had continued their advance in the Southern quarters. After some fresh air strikes on the 20th, the United States warned the regime to “keep out of Hassake” and even sent their own planes to protect their advisors in the field. Despite holding discussions with government representatives, mediated by a Russian military delegation, fighting resumed on the 21st, the regime having refused to withdraw its militia from the town, countering this demand by proposing that both sides disarm — which was, in turn, rejected by the Kurds. According to the UK-based Syrian Centre for Human Rights, the fighting caused at least 43 deaths, including 27 civilians and 11 children, while thousands of the inhabitants fled the town. Witnesses reported a fresh advance to the South of the town by the Kurds followed by a truce negotiated through the Russians with the return of two positions to the regime. However a Kurdish military source denied any agreement and, during the night of the 22nd, the YPG launched a large-scale attack on the Arab quarter of Ghweiran and then on Neshwa. On the 23rd, after fierce fighting it captured Hassakeh’s central prison, located in Ghweiran and announced that they controlled 90% of the town. After a week of clashes and thanks to fresh discussions held in the coastal base of Hmeimim with Russian military mediators, both camps agreed to a truce that provided for the exchange of prisoners and the withdrawal of armed forces from the town.
Since the July attempted coup d’état, there has been and ever widening circle of repression in Turkey. Over 80,000 members of the armed forces, the civil service, the legal, judiciary and educational systems have been charged or suspended.
On the 1st of the month it was the turn of the doctors of the Gulhane Military Academy Hospital to be targeted by an enquiry. They are suspected of having facilitated the incorporation of “Gulenists” into the army by giving them positive medical reports while blocking that of “anti-Gulenists”…
On the 9th, the Minister of Justice, Bekir Bozdağ, gave the figure of 16,000 people arrested, over 6,000 in detention pending trial and 7,768 others being investigated. As room is needed to keep so many in prison, it was announced on the 17th that 38,000 common law prisoners would be released on parole… while 2,360 police officers accused of “Gulenism” were dismissed by decree.
The government has seized the opportunity to extend the repression to all its opponents — starting with those least likely to have had any links with the “Gulenists” whom it accuses of making the coup d’état. Whereas the Turkish President had excluded the “pro-Kurdish” HDP from the meeting it held with the opposition following the coup, it was learnt on the 1st August that he had withdrawn the personal charges against the CHP and MHP members of Parliament — but not those against the HDP members.
As from the 3rd, arrests began of HDP members and students in the course of police raids in Antalya. On the 11th, the police announced they had launched raids on HDP offices throughout the country seeking to find the “urban structure” of the PKK. In Istanbul the raid targeted several offices, including the Beyoglu one, attacked at 3 a.m. with the support of a helicopter. There 17 people were arrested and accused of “taking part in a terrorist organisation”. The campaign of violent closure of press organs by units of the Special Forces (30 already closed) has thus continued, concentrating on Kurdish papers and news agencies. On the 16th, after a court had ordered its closure for “PKK propaganda” the daily Özgür Gündem was subjected to a raid. Already subject to innumerable legal procedures, this paper with a circulation of 7,500 daily copies had the fault of being both Left wing and pro-Kurdish. Here too 23 people were manhandled, arrested and taken to the anti-terrorist department of the Istanbul police — including visitors who had come to express their support. The journalists of the opposition TV channel IMC who covered the event were also arrested for questioning in the middle of their reporting and their cameras confiscated. Similar attacks were aimed at other press organs: on the 30th the Special Forces attacked the offices of the Kurdish Dijle News Agency (DIHA) at Hakkari and, on the same day, the daily Azadiya Welat at Diyarbekir. In this raid 23 members of the staff were arrested as well as four visitors. Created in 1992, Azadiya Welat had always been harassed and one of its distributers at Adana had been assassinated in October 2014 (a murder for which no one has ever been questioned) and more recently one of its journalists, Rohat Aktaş, died at Cizre while covering the fighting between the Kurdish fighters and the Turkish troops.
Regarding the military operations, the period of relative calm following the attempted coup has not lasted long. After the PKK commander, Cemil Bayik, announced early in August the intensifying of attacks on the Turkish forces, the cycle of violence was resumed in all the Kurdish regions of the country — but also (which is new) in regions where the Kurds are not a majority. PKK attacks and Army strikes with often the imposition of fresh “anti-civilian” curfews (one of the Army’s favourite weapons) spread out unceasingly throughout the month of August.
On the 1st, it was announced that two Kurdish guerrilla attacks, one on the Black Sea coast and the other in Hakkari had killed 4 Turkish soldiers on 31st July. The list continues like a long lamentation. On the 2nd, 5 policemen were killed and 4 seriously wounded by an exploding mine at Bingöl; on the 8th there were Turkish air strikes in Siirt province; at Beytüşşebap in Sirnak Province there were 10 soldiers killed and 10 others wounded on the 10th by a bomb exploded by the passing of their convoy; at Uludere 5 Turkish soldiers were killed and 8 others wounded by rockets coming from the Iraqi border…
On the 11th 5 civilians were killed at Diyarbekir by a bomb attack and 12 people wounded, including 5 police. At Kiziltepe, in Mardin Province another attack killed two civilians and a policeman and wounded 15 other people. On the 15th, 2 officers and a child were killed and 25 people, including 5 police were wounded by a bomb that destroyed a police station at a control point where the main road leaves Diyarbekir to go to Batman. In the evening of the 18th, the police headquarters at Van was the target of a bomb attack, which caused 3 civilian deaths and 40 injured, including 2 police, according to the Provincial governor. According to the PKK, local sources reported 20 deaths among the police and 20 civilians killed, the police having shot blindly at the civilians after the bomb explosion. On the same day 3 soldiers and “village guards” were killed and 6 injured near Bitlis by a mine aimed at their convoy. However, the bloodiest attack remains that against the police headquarters at Elazig on the 18th, by a bomb placed in the building’s garden. At least 120 were wounded and dozens were killed here. The PKK claimed that 105 officers had been killed and 155 others wounded.
In this poisonous atmosphere the HDP tried to break this infernal cycle of violence by multiplying proposals for democratisation, condemning the violence and calling for peace. While the government has excluded it from the Parliamentary Commission supposed to jointly work on the constitutional changes, it published, on the 10th, a “Road map for democratisation” proposing, inter alia, the drafting in common of a pluralist constitution, the guarantee of equal rights to all citizens whatever be their religion or ethnicity, a participative approach to the management of regions involving the inhabitants, the support of social, political and economic development of women, the rejection of the use of violence in the country and in order to put an end to it, the opening of negotiations with those who are using arms to demand their rights…
Following the bomb attacks at Diyarbekir and Mardin the HDP re-iterated its appeal for the “immediate stopping of the shedding of blood and violence and for taking measures for resolving the problems by negotiations”.
Its co-President, Selahattin Demirtaş, criticising the Bayik declaration, called on the PKK to redouble its efforts to achieve a peaceful settling of the conflict. Then after the attacks of the 18th, the HDP Executive Committee sent its condolences to all the victims and asked everyone to “show their capacity for reason and to abstain from actions that risk making the situation even more conflictual”.
On the 20th, however, the Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, excluded any resumption of peace negotiations with the PKK, declaring his refusal to “enter into dialogue with a terrorist organisation” and on the 22nd the PKK subordinated any negotiations to the lifting of the isolation of its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, who is forbidden to receive any newspapers or visitors, including from close relations.
On the same day fresh clashes occurred near a control post at Nazimiye, at Dersim (Tunceli Province). A soldier and a PKK woman activist were killed and three police wounded. A curfew was decreed on the town while reinforcements and a helicopter were sent. On the 26th, the PKK claimed a suicide attack with a lorry against the anti-riot police Headquarters at Cizre. According to the government, the explosion, which totally destroyed the building’s façade, caused 11 deaths and 75 wounded among the police and 2 civilian victims. On the 29th the PKK published its own assessment: 118 police killed and 152 wounded. On the 28th, Diyarbekir airport was closed after being hit by four rockets that did not cause any casualties.
While the Turkish police have been particularly targeted this month, Kurdish civilians have also paid a heavy price. Apart from numerous arrests of Kurdish opponents and some very worrying disappearances (like that of the leader of the DBP (Democratic party of the regions), Hurşit Kulter, of whom there has been no news since 26 May, the date of his probable arrest at Sirnak) there was a new anti-Kurdish attack carried out at Gaziantep on the 23rd.
This town is 60 Km North of the Syrian border and known to be an ISIS stronghold. This suicide bomb attack was aimed at the wedding of an HDP member and caused 51 deaths and 94 injured. The government at first said that the bomb carrier was a 12 year old child before reversing and stating that it had no idea of the identity of the person responsible. As soon as he had news of the attack, the HDP co-President, Selahattin Demirtaş, went there to visit the victims’ families. In a speech made at Diyarbekir Airport he sent the government a vibrant call for peace.
“First of all I would send the government a sincere appeal. We have already said during the Surüç and other massacres: some forces have penetrated the State apparatus this has been revealed very painfully on the night of 15 July. These forces do not want us to speak to one another or to make peace together (…) The best way to avenge ourselves on these savages who are committing these mass murders is to lead the country to peace. (…) Let us do this, let us commit ourselves in an effort (…) to share, to bind up our pains. Let us first start by making our weddings together, our funerals together, let us be joined in our pains and our condolences and, starting from that, we can join our hearts”.
However Demirtaş also demanded of the Prime Minister an enquiry into the security faults that had enabled such an attack — faults, he declared, “organised by these same people who recently tried a coup d’état”, echoing a charge of criminal negligence made by the PKK against the government’s responsibility for these deeds by having let ISIS settle in Gaziantep. The next day HDP published a communiqué detailing these charges: “This criminal attack resembles the other attacks that targeted our party in June 2015 at Adana, Mersin and Diyarbakır, as well as that of 20 July 2015 at Surüç et and 10 October at Ankara (…) The government authorised the gradual transformation of Gaziantep into a lair of Jihadists and did not even take the measures needed to prevent (the organisation from making such attacks). It is significant that this attack against a Kurdish wedding should take place on the same evening that the Union of Kurdish Communities (KCK, political wing of the PKK) declared it hoped to negotiate with the Turkish government to reach a solution. It should be recalled that the last time the KCK had announced its wish for renewing peace talks, on 10 October 2015, 2 suicide bombers attacked Ankara Station. (Following this attack) and the broadcasting of pictures of the carnage throughout the country, any discussions for a solution had become impossible”.
The question remains whether the Turkish government had not tolerated or even supported the presence of Jihadists likely to help it in its increasingly obsessive struggle against the Kurds.
The preparations for the operation to retake Mosul from ISIS are continuing. Iraqi Air Force planes dropped leaflets on the city urging the inhabitants to take shelter, to stay in their homes and avoid the positions held by the Jihadists.
On the 12th, the repairs to the Khazi Bridge over the Great Zab, between Erbil and Mosul began in preparation for the attack (the bridge had been destroyed by the Jihadists in the summer of 2014 in their retreat after their attempt to take Erbil). Backed by the anti-ISIS Coalition’s air strikes, the Kurdish forces left Makhmour and Khazir and began to shell with artillery the Kurdish and Arab villages close to Mosul held by the Jihadists. This operation is, in fact, the start of the operation to encircle Mosul prior to the offensive to retake it. On the 15th, the Peshmergas re-took about fifteen villages Southeast of the city. However, at Baghdad as at Erbil the leaders are clearly starting to consider the post-ISIS issues — who would control the recaptured areas?
The Iraqi Prime Minister even went so far in a press conference as to ask the Peshmergas “to stay where they were” and not to take control of any fresh territory! The KRG spokesman, Safîn Dizayî, replied on the 18th that the Peshmergas would continue to advance “until all the Kurdistan lands in Nineveh Province (i.e Mosul’s) were freed” and would not withdraw from the areas already liberated. Another question is that of who would command the operation. On the 20th the US State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, stated that for good co-ordination the Peshmergas taking part in it should be placed under Iraqi command. The Minister for Peshmergas immediately replied that they would remain under the command of the KRG, adding that the Central government had never wanted to pay their wages nor take part in their training or their equipment.
Under the terms of the agreement reached between the KRG and the United States, the pay of those Peshmergas taking part in the operation would be paid by and aid financed by the US. On the 21st, to lower the tension, the Kurdistan Presidency’s Office published a communiqué making the point that the Region “was seeking a political agreement between all the participants in the Mosul operation regarding the manner the province would be administered after it had been taken back from ISIS and (…) that it will observe all agreements reached with the Iraqi government and the Coalition forces”. It remains to be seen, however, if such a political agreement can be reached before the operation …
Another issue that has become very politically sensitive is that of the people displaced by the fighting. The Kurds cannot forget the “Arabisation” policies carried out by Saddam Hussein against them. These memories fuel their suspicions that Baghdad could use the displaced people to alter the ethnic composition of the areas they consider as their own. The KRG expects the offensive on Mosul to provoke the flight of 500,000 people to its Region, which, with a normal population of about 4.5 million, is already sheltering 2 million displaced persons -- thus adding to the already considerable economic difficulties facing Kurdistan. These displaced persons, mostly Sunni Arabs, complain about the absence of help from the Iraqi government either for surviving where they are of for returning to their original homeland. On the 29th, Hassan al-Jabouri, a member of the Sunni Arab Council of Kirkuk had complained in these terms to the Kurdish TV channel Rudaw of the (Shiite dominated) Central Government’s shortcomings, criticising it for not fulfilling its moral obligations and being primarily concerned about the religious (Sunni) faith of the displaced persons.
In fact, the Sunni Arabs are themselves concerned they might see themselves excluded from the management of their own regions once ISIS has been driven out. On the 2nd, Saadun Afandi, a member of the Kirkuk Sunni Arab Council, announced that it had submitted a list of 5,000 fighters to Masud Barzani to create, under the authority of the Peshmergas Ministry, a... Sunni Arab brigade that could control the Sunni Arab areas of the province once they are freed from ISIS.
The fact that the Iraqi Hugh Electoral Commission has, for the third time in 15 years, excluded Kirkuk from the provincial elections “because of the political situation in the town” is not calculated to reassure the residents. The Governor of Kirkuk, le Dr. Najmaddin Karim, was even more shocked at the Commission talking of opening polling stations within the province for displaced persons from other Provinces and has declared that he would not authorise their being open if the Province’s own residents were unable to take part in the elections. The question of the Province’s participation in the elections is further complicated by the years during which policies of evicting the Kurds and Arabisation had been carried out by the former regime, making it hard to decide who could legitimately be considered a resident of the province…
However, in Suleimaniyah Province, which has 35,500 displaced families from al-Anbar in the town itself and in camps around it, the registering of those wishing to return home began on the 3rd, some men having often gone ahead as scouts to check whether the rest of their family could return. However the Province’s authorities are expecting these departures to be offset by new arrivals from Mosul. Between the 5th and 7th August the adjoining Province of Salahaddin has already received 120,000 people and between the 17th and 24th only Kirkuk has received 1,500 new displaced persons.
Another source of tension between Baghdad and Erbil is oil and the payment of exports from the territory (particularly from Kirkuk). Discussions on this subject have been going on for months giving rise to alternatively positive statements (the announce of a pending agreement) and negative ones (no outcome). The arrival of a new Iraqi Oil Minister, Jabbar Al-Luaibi, had given a sudden rise of hope on the possibilities of reaching an agreement that would renew the idea of share revenue whereby the KRG would receive 17% of the Federal budget in return for exporting 550,000 barrels of oil per day to the Turkish port of Ceyhan through SOMO (State Organisation for Marketing Oil, the Iraqi organisation responsible for exporting oil).
At the end of the month, however, on the 29th after a meeting between the KRG’s Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, and the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi, a joint communiqué stated that “discussions would be resumed” between the two Oil Ministries regarding the differences regarding oil operations … On the 30th the Iraqi Prime Minister re-iterated his demand that the KRG export its oil solely through Baghdad in exchange for the payment of its 17% share of the federal budget, while on the same day SOMO placed three tankers that had taken part in the export of Kurdistan oil on its “black list”.
So they seem to have just been marking time except — perhaps, for Kirkuk. On the 8th Rebwar Talabanî, Chairman of the Kirkuk Provincial Council announced that the Province had received from the KRG since December 2015 50 million dollars for its oil, equivalent to 2 dollars a barrel exported. Until the end of June these payments had been made by the central government but subsequently by the KRG in accordance with an Baghdad-Erbil agreement about export of oil from Kirkuk Province through the Kurdistan region. Then, at the end of the month Rûdaw announced an agreement: 150,000 barrels per day will be exported from Kirkuk to Ceyhan jointly and equally by Baghdad and Erbil, the two partners paying each half the wages of the Province’s staff and civil servants.
As against this the following odd news was announced on 13 August: Iraq would rapidly set up customs control posts on its borders with Kurdistan. This follows the refusal of the KRG to ratify the “Law for unifying customs” that provided for Baghdad controlling all customs posts — including those on the KRG external borders...
On August 2nd, about 20 Kurdish political prisoners were executed by hanging for “terrorism”. Several Human Rights organisations criticised these executions, accusing the authorities of having used made-up charges against these political prisoners. According to Amnesty international, with 977 people executed in 2015, Iran is the first country on its world wide list of executions — far ahead of Pakistan (320 executions) and Saudi Arabia (158). Other sources talk about the execution of 20 people, including 10 Kurds, accused of attacking the security forces.
Among those hanged was Shahram Amadi, arrested in April 2009 by the Revolutionary Guards in Sanandaj, executed in Rajayî Shahr Prison. Amadi has always stated that all the facts on which he was charged came from confessions extracted under torture. His family was not allowed to visit him before his execution and was informed of his death on their way to Teheran. Amadi was sentenced to death for moharabeh — which literally means “hostility to God” — an imaginary charge often used in cases of Sunni Islamists prisoners or members of secular organisations. Amadi was accused of being a member of a Sunni Jihadist group and of having possessed war weapons, although when arrested he was unarmed and wounded during his arrest.
The head of the United Nations Human Rights Commission expressed serious doubts as to the observance of legal rules and the justice of some trials that had led to death sentences. On the 7th Shahram Amîrî, a Kurdish nuclear scientist from Kermanshah, was executed, accused of treason and spying for the United States.
Then on the 9th six new Kurdish prisoners were executed, including a political prisoner, Mohammed Abdolahi, arrested in May 2010 by the Urmiye police and accused of having participated in the activities of the Kurdish Komala party.
Moreover, as Iranian Kurdistan (Rojhelat) is particularly disadvantaged economically (the central government allocating very little investment there) many Kurds can find no other work than carrying goods across the Iran-Iraq border. These porters, called “kolbars”, frequently very young, have always been the targets of the Iranian police and security forces, who regard them as smugglers and don’t hesitate to shoot them. On the 11th August one of these kolbars, a 19 year old, of Iraqi Kurdish origin, was wounded by pasdaran (Revolution Guards) on the Iranian border near Shabadin pass. Hit while on the Iraqi side of the border, the young man died of his wounds in Suleimaniah hospital. On the 28th, on the initiative of the Komala, several Iranian Kurdish political parties submitted a petition to the Foreign Ministries of several European countries to ask those countries to try and obtain from Iran and end to the abuses to which these kolbars are subjected and a fairer spread of investment amongst the Iranian provinces.
This petition refers to Article 48 of the Iranian Constitution that stipulates that “there must be no discrimination between the different provinces regarding the exploitation of natural resources, the use of public funds and the distribution of economic activities between the country’s different provinces and regions in order to enable each region to acquire the capital and resources required for its needs and growth”.
The non-Persian people of Iran, who form the majority of the country’s population, have long complained of suffering from economic discrimination by the central government because of their ethno-linguistic or religious (Sunni) identity.
Finally, on the 11th, Iran again shelled some Iraqi Kurdistan villages close to the borders, near Sidakan, in Soran district, Northeast of Erbil, forcing some of the residents to evacuate, while Iranian army helicopters also flew over the area. Bombing had already taken place on 26th June for the same reason according to Iran: bombing Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDP-I) bases after it announced, last May, the resumption of armed struggle against the regime.
The Kurdish journalist Wedat Hussein Ali, 28 years of age, working for the Roj News agency (close to the PKK) was kidnapped in Dohuk and later found dead on the 13th on the Dohouk-Semel road. His body bore signs of having been tortured. The Roj Agency stressed that he had several times been arrested by the local police, which is run by the KDP. At Erbil, the KDP group in the Kurdish Parliament called for an inquest, describing this murder as “dangerous”. On the 15th, Wesat’s family accused the town’s police forces of the murder — the latter replying that, on the contrary, they were very worried by the event.
The Independent Human Rights Commission of the Kurdistan Region condemned the kidnapping and murder of the young journalist and demanded a deep investigation, while the British consul to Kurdistan made the same demand on the same day. The Region’s Presidency’s spokesman, Omed Sabah, pointed out that the President had called the journalist’s family to express his condolences and had ordered an enquiry. On the 6th, the UN Special representative to Iraq, Gyorgy Busztin, condemned the murder most severely and called on the KRG to set up measures to protect journalists and media professionals as a matter of urgency.
Demonstrations of protest at the murder took place in Erbil, and the organisation Reporters without Borders also condemned the murder on the 17th, as did the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists. On the 25th Human Rights Watch demanded an enquiry into this death.