On 5th September, fifty Kurdish activists, including Members of Parliament, began a hunger strike to protest at the solitary confinement to which is submitted the imprisoned Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan, who has been forbidden any visitors since the summer of 2015 and the renewal of fighting between the PKK and the Turkish armed forces. On the 12th, however, for the first time in 2 years, Ocalan was allowed, for the Moslem “Feast of the Sacrifice”, to receive a visit from his brother Mehmet. In a press conference following this visit, the latter stated that Ocalan had described the war now taking place as “a blind war, a war that neither side can win”. Unfortunately, this war was waged in the field all through the month with, as from the 3rd, the death of 13 Turkish soldiers and one “village guard” (i.e. pro-government militiaman) in three different clashes in Hakkari, Van and Mardin Provinces. On the 7th, the PKK announced it had destroyed, on Monday 5th, three Turkish Army helicopters on their landing field in Cukurca district (Hakkari Province) — which the authorities denied until the PKK broadcast a video on the 14th. On the 11th, Turkish fighters retaliated with strikes at PKK positions in Iraqi Kurdistan. In the evening of the 12th, a police control point near the AKP premises and the governor’s office was attacked with bombs, causing 48 injured according to the authorities and claimed by the PKK on the 14th. On the 17th, in Hakkari Province, three troops and 4 Kurdish activists were killed and three soldiers wounded in different clashes. On the 19th, there were fresh air strikes on PKK bases in Iraq. According to Dogan News agency, a curfew was imposed on 18 villages on Diyarbekir Province on the 23rd, and a soldier was killed some days later in the Lice district as well as a “village guard” in Sirnak Province. On the 26th, at least three passengers in an Army bus were killed by a mine on the Derîk-Kiziltepe road. On the 27th, Turkish Air Force again hit PKK positions in Qandil Mountain, aiming at an ammunition store and some shelters while, on the same day, there was another bomb attack on a road in Mardin Province that killed 2 soldiers, 2 “village guards” and injured 6 others. In another incident, 6 Turkish soldiers were killed in fighting near Uludere, close to the Iraqi border. Finally, on the 30th, some new air strikes were aimed at the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan and in Hakkari Province where, the day before 3 “village guards” had been killed.
With this background of continuing violence, the Turkish government continues to use the pretext of a failed coup d’état to pursue attacks on Kurdish media, teachers, and elected representatives. After the Left weekly Özgür Gündem, attacked by the police and closed last August, it was the turn of Azadiya Welat, the country’s only Kurdish daily, to be attacked. The police launched an attack on its premises in Diyarbakir’s Bağlar quarter while the Special Forces blocked access to the building, checking everyone who entered or left. The 38 members of the paper’s staff were arrested, their mobile phones and identity documents seized — as also happened to any visitors present at the time of the raid. It should be noted that Özgür Gündem’s chief editor, Zana Bilir Kaya, and one of his journalists, Inan Kizilkaya, are still being detained in harsh conditions at Silivri (European Turkey, about 50 Km west of Istanbul) together with people allegedly involved in the coup d’état. Besides, according to AFP, the Turkish authorities suspended on the 29th the broadcast via the TürkSat satellite of ten TV stations programmes, including Zarok TV, the first Kurdish channel for children. Affected by this are three other stations broadcasting in Kurdish, three in both Turkish and Kurdish and three others broadcasting in Turkish but considered “pro-Kurdish”, namely Hayatın Sesi TV, Azadi TV, Jiyan TV, Van TV, TV10, IMC TV. None of the stations has received any official banning notice. The next day there was a total of 20 stations affected by a decree forbidding them from broadcasting, among which some are managed by Kurds or Alevis, and especially IMC TV, probably targeted because it has not hesitated to report in a critical manner on the security forces and the fighting taking place in the Kurdish regions since the summer of 2015. One of the IMC journalists, Hamza Aktan, told Reuters “All this has nothing to do with the coup d’état! The aim is to silence the last independent media covering the Kurdish question and the violations (of Human Rights) being committed by the State”.
The repression is also being aimed at teachers. On 8 September, an anonymous source in the Ministry of Education announced that 11,500 of them had been put on paid leave pending the results of an enquiry into their possible links with the PKK. At Diyarbekir on the 9th, the suspended teachers organised protest demonstrations in which 200 participants gathered to shout anti-fascist slogans — in the course of which, according to the AFP, the police arrested 30 until the Governor of Diyarbekir imposed a curfew on a dozen of the city’s quarters. Over 400 teachers were also suspended in Tunceli Province (Dersim to its inhabitants!). On the 19th, the first day of the scholastic year since the attempted coup, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nurettin Canikli, announced that 27,715 teachers had been sacked during the summer, some on suspicion of links with Gulen but 11,500 of them were Kurds suspected of links with the PKK. The Deputy PM also indicated that 445 teachers had been cleared and that 9,465 were still suspended pending the results of enquiries, adding that the sacked teachers would be replaced by the 10th October as exams to qualify 20,000 new teachers were taking place.
Finally the repression was extended to the elected representatives of the “pro-Kurdish” HDP: local councillors, mayors, Members of Parliament… On 5th September the N° 2 Diyarbekir Criminal Court decided to force, if necessary, the appearance in court of the HDP M.P.s charged in the “KCK case” (152 people charged since October 2010 with “membership of an urban network of the PKK”) — that is 7 Members of Parliament, including the MP for Diyarbekir, Çağlar Demirel (Assistant secretary of the HDP Parliamentary Group) and the MPs for Urfa (Osman Baydemir), for Ağrı (Dirayet Taşdemir), for Muş (Ahmet Yıldırı), for Siirt (Besime Konca), for Dersim (Alican Önlü) and for Van (Nadir Yıldırım). The proceedings, which had been suspended by their parliamentary immunity, were resumed as soon as this immunity has been lifted. The State also dismissed from office 28 mayors of Kurdish municipalities, 24 for “links with the PKK” and 4 for links with Gülen, to replace them with unelected “administrators” politically close to the AKP. On the 10th, Suleyman Soylu, who had replaced Efkan Ala as Minister of the Interior, announced that is Ministry would take control of the 28 HDP municipalities within 15 days, adding ironically that these towns “would no longer be managed from Qandil” (the PKK base in Iraqi Kurdistan).
Indeed, the targeted co-mayors were stripped of office the next day, namely the mayors of Silvan, Batman, Hakkari and Nusaybin. The Ministry of the Interior indicated that 12 of the dismissed mayors had also been arrested. The HDP condemned the nomination of unelected replacements, stating that this was a violation of the Turkish Constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights. The HDP Member of Parliament, Meral Danış Beştaş, described this practice as a “coup d’état”, declaring that the municipal councils and the co-mayors of the local councils concerned would not recognise the authority of these “administrators”. The Minister of Justice, Bekir Bozdağ, accused the sacked mayors of having used their office to “finance the terrorists” and on the 12th, Erdogan stated he had proof of this, adding that “the decision to discharge them should have been taken earlier”. The US Embassy in Ankara expressed its concern about the violence provoked by this decision, recalling the importance it attached to the peaceful political expression as recognised in the Turkish Constitution, and calling for bye-elections to replace the dismissed mayors. On the 14th, the Minister of the Interior described this statement as “unacceptable and provocative” while the Foreign Minister, Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, telephoned the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, in protest, stating that “no Ambassador is Turkey’s governor”.
Alongside these attacks on the HDP co-mayors, the Turkish police launched an “anti-terror” operation, in the course of which several leading officials of that party were arrested and charged by the Tokat Prosecutor’s Office of “being part of a terrorist organisation”. Amongst then was the HDP co-President, Alp Altinörs, arrested following a raid on his house. The HDP pointed out, in a communiqué, that Altinör had been arrested because he had attended the funeral of Zakir Karabulut, an HDP cadre in Tokat, killed during the 10 October 2015 suicide attack in front of Ankara Station, an attack attributed to ISIS. On the 20th the police carried out a raid on the Hakkiri premises of the DBP (Democratic Regions’ Party), where a hunger strike was being held in protest at the municipality being run by an “administrator” after the arrest of the elected mayor.
During a press conference given after a visit to the European Parliament at the invitation of its Speaker, Martin Schulz, the HDP co-president, S. Demirtaş, accused the Turkish President of being responsible for the country’s destabilisation and called for “more concrete actions” by the European Parliament, which, he said, was already following the situation in Turkey closely. Demirtaş also recalled that the DBP co-President Kamuran Yüksek had been incarcerated for the last 16 days without a hearing. Other international bodies are expressing concern about the state of Human Rights in Turkey: on the 13th, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad Al-Hussein, stated, at the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council, that he was continually receiving complaints from Turkey and called on the Turkish government to authorise an inspection of the country’s Kurdish regions. He announced that a specific team was going to be set up in Geneva to follow the situation, adding hat the complaints received covered “executions of civilians, extrajudicial executions, mass displacement of populations”, which suggested the existence of violations of International law and of Human Rights. The United Nations had already asked for enquiries earlier, specifically about the death of about a hundred people burnt alive in the cellars of a building in Cizre. Finally many observers feared that the Turkish State’s security forces had started to resume the dismal practices of the 90s, the use of “forced disappearances” of opponents which had struck thousands of people: the DBP president of Sirnak, Hurşit Külter, had disappeared from this town last May, after having been arrested, according to witnesses, and no demands to the authorities for clarification regarding his fate had been answered. The Turkish Parliament had passed a law last June granting immunity to the security forces for crimes committed during military operations in the Kurdish areas …
Faced with the hardening of Turkish policy regarding the Kurds, double nationality or foreign nationality seem to provide no protection anymore. Thus a young woman man from Toulouse (France), of Kurdish ancestry, Ebru Firat, was arrested on the 8th, during a stopover at Istanbul Airport on her return from a visit to her family that had recently returned to live in Diyarbekir. Returning to Toulouse to look for work, Ebru’s fault was that she had visited Rojava to fight ISIS during a previous visit and had appeared in a TV report on France 2 channel. Accused of preparing a terrorist attack in Istanbul (although she was only on a stopover in the Airport), she faces 20 years jail. A support committee was formed on the 16th in her area in France.
Turkey is continuing its anti-Kurdish operations in Rojava. On 1st September, after denying the truce with the Kurdish YPG forces announced by the Pentagon, the Turkish troops began shelling YPG bases in Afrîn area. The 2nd, the Turkish President denied the claim by PYD and Pentagon as well, whereby YPG had withdrawn from Manbij and returned to the East bank of the Euphrates, and, according to the Firat News Agency, Turkish security forces opened fire on some Kurdish demonstrators in Kobanê that had assembled on the Syrian side of the border to protest against the building of wall between Rojava and Turkey, which they said is being built 20 m inside their borders. According to the town’s public Health official, Hikmet Ahmed, over 80 people were injured by tear gas or live bullets, 7 of them seriously, and according to the YPG a young man of 17 was killed. Nevertheless, the demonstrators were said to have succeeded in pushing the wall back to the Turkish side of the border.
Two days later, on the 4th, Turkey opened a new front by sending an armoured force to the Syrian town of Al-Ras, about 55 Km West of Jerablus. This force was accompanied by Arab and Turcoman rebels affiliated to the Free Syrian Army, who also took several villages to the East and South of the town. Turkey has claimed that it does not want to remain in Syria but only to protect the border from ISIS and the YPG. On the same day the Turkish Prime Minister announced that the ISIS jihadists had been expelled from the last position they were holding on the Turkish-Syrian border, specifying that it had been made secure from “Azaz to Jerablus”. On the 7th, the YPG announced that the Turkish Army again shelled their positions in villages near Kobanê and Hassakeh and on the 8th the Turkish Army again hit the Afrin region. The YPG, six of whose fighters were killed, threatened to retaliate should these attacks be repeated, and announced that the village of Koreli, to the West of Kobané, had been shelled. On the same day the Turkish Defence Minister, Fikri Işık, stated that Turkey “would not let the YPG extend its territory and increase its power on the pretext of operations against ISIS”. He added that the YPG had not withdrawn to the East of the Euphrates as promised by the US before taking Manbij. Işık stated that Turkey could support an anti-ISIS operation towards Raqqa, but on condition that this was carried out “by the inhabitants of the region and not by the YPG”.
Alongside these military operations, Turkey is imposing a blockade of Rojava, of which the building of a wall along the border of Kobanê is only one aspect. According to Meike Nack, spokeswoman of the Foundation of Free Women of Rojava (WJAE) “the Turkish border guards do not hesitate about opening fire on those who try pass food and provisions across” and the Rojava authorities complain that the embargo is also applied by the Kurdistan Regional Government at the border post of Pesh Khabur with Iraqi Kurdistan. They say that the opening of the border decreed by the KRG on 8 June last is, in fact, very selective and that many people are denied passage. The KDP, which largely controls the KRG, does not recognise the Rojava administration, run by the PYD.
Despite these difficulties, Rojava nevertheless receives outside aide: on September 15th a cargo of 25 tons of medicines and medical equipment sent by the Suleimaniyah Provincial General Directorate of Health was delivered to Kobanê. That province of the KRG had already sent two medical shipments, the last of which was of 45 tons. On the 27th the Kurdish Red Cross had even been able to open the first “Kobanê Hospital” that includes the following services: pediatric, surgical (including orthopedic surgery) obstetrical as well as a laboratory for biological examinations.
Finally, Turkey is also using as tools of its anti-Kurdish policy the various groups that it supports in the Region. Some of these go even further than Ankara in their attacks. While Turkey has relatively good relations with the KRG and the KDP, the leader of the Syrian opposition delegation in Geneva, Asaad Al-Zubi, in an interview with Sky News, described as “terrorist groups” not only the Kurds of the PYD but also those of the Kurdish National Council (KNC) which collects the Kurdish parties and groups opposed to the PYD and is supported by the Iraqi KDP. A little earlier, the leader of the Turcoman Front in Kirkuk, Arshad Salihi, had called on the Iraqi Government to “act against the PKK threat in Iraq”, accusing that party of having stirred up tensions between the Kurds and the Turcomen in Tuz Khurmatu and of “representing a threat to the Turcomen”. At a press conference, Hacal Salim Zilan, a PKK commander in Kirkuk, denied that his party and any forces at Tuz Khurmatu and indirectly accused Salihi to merely act as a mouthpiece for Turkey, adding that the PKK was fighting ISIS. The next day a General of the PUK Peshmergas, Westa Rassul, replied to Salihi by recalling that the PKK had responded to a call for help by the Governor of Kirkuk, Najmaddin Karim, to defend the city against the Jihadists while Salahi had not even visited a single wounded peshmerga in hospital … Rassul then accused the Turcoman Front leader of really speaking in Turkey’s name not the Front. Indeed, on the 25th the Turcomam Front had even attacked, in a communiqué, the visit to Kirkuk of Selahettin Demirtaş, co-President of the HDP, describing it as “an attempt to erase Kirkuk’s Turcoman identity”.
Although ISIS and the PYD are mentioned on an equal footing in the official objectives of Turkey’s Syrian operations, many commentators have described it as being essentially aimed at preventing the PYD’s Syrian Kurds from controlling a continuous area along the Turkish border. Since the Turks had been unable to obtain the creation of a security zone in the North of Syria, it looks like they have decided to create one themselves. Such an operation could not have been undertaken without the approval of the US and many analysts consider that the Americans and also the Russians, with whom Turkey has recently resumed contact, have tacitly approved it. This raises the question of whether the Pentagon, that has made the Kurds and the PYD its main partners in the field, would not be at the moment ready to drop them... This is, indeed, the analysis made by Jean Périer in his 5 September article in New Eastern Outlook: “By pushing the Kurds under the bus, the White House has not only resolved the problem of improving its relations with Turkey before Ankara reinforces its friendship with Moscow. It has also significantly reduced the intensity of Ankara’s demands for the extradition of (…) Fethullah Gülen by reducing it to a purely legal aspect, thus easing Joe Biden’s mission to Turkey”. Moreover, a researcher at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) envisages that the PYD Kurds may also have fallen victim to an agreement between the Damascus regime and Turkey, that may have just been negotiated during the contacts between Ankara and Moscow — Turkey might have, in fact, been “authorised” to prevent the Kurds uniting their areas in the North in exchange for a free hand to Assad in Aleppo …
The complexity of the situation is well illustrated by the fact that, in this context, while Brett McGurk, the White House’s special anti-ISIS envoy, has just met the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — after having held several meetings with Turkish leaders — the State Department’s spokesman, Mark Toner, asked on the 8th the High Negotiating Committee of the Syrian opposition to “move closer to the Kurds” and include them in the coming peace negotiations.
Then, on the 22nd, while the Pentagon declared it envisaged delivering arms to SDF prior to launching the attack on Raqqa, the Turkish President Erdogan, while in New York, accused the United States of having sent two plane-loads of arms “to terrorist groups”. On the 26th, the Turkish Prime Minister, Numan Kurtulmus, expressed his satisfaction that a major part of the YPG Kurdish fighters in the Syrian town of Manbij had stared to withdraw to the East of the Euphrates.
Attacked by the Turkish Army and the Syrian rebels it supports in the North, the YPG nevertheless continues in parallel the struggle against ISIS in the South… On the 13th, it announced having repulsed, the day before, a Jihadist attack South of Hassake and having taken control of several villages in the area of the fighting.
Despite the difficult military context in which Rojava finds itself, the building of the federal system proclaimed on 17 March is being pursued. The co-President of the Constituent Assembly of the Federal Region of Rojava, Hadiya Youssef, announced on the 8th that its first meeting would take place early October. She reiterated on the 14th that the Kurds were determined to connect their three Cantons, adding that the sole solution for Syria was a political one and that federalism was the best choice for it. She also declared that the truce negotiated between the US and Russia would fail if the Turkish incursion did not stop. On the 20th, the Rojava authorities began the process of taking a census, essential to enabling electoral registers to be drawn up aimed at and setting up a Federal Council. For his part, Salih Muslim, the co-President of the PYD party, spoke on 1st September to the European Parliament to defend the PYD’s project in Rojava, which he presented as “multi-ethnic and democratic”, asking the countries of the European Union to put pressure on Southern Kurdistan to lift its embargo on Rojava and ask the KRG to open its frontier with Rojava in a clear enough manner to enable the entry of medicines. Muslim also accused Turkey of having special links with ISIS, affirming that the PYD possessed documents proving this involvement. The defence of the federal project was reaffirmed during the 8th PYD Congress held in Brussels on 28th September, attended by 700 delegates from all over Europe. Here the co-Presidents Asya Abdullah and Salih Muslim declared that “the PYD is based on a democratic paradigm in accordance with orientations given by Abdullah Ocalan” and that it wanted “to set up a democratic system in Rojava in which all the identities and cultures could live freely”. They further added that the experience of Rojava and North Syria could serve as an example for the rest of the land of Syria” and that “everyone should know that the problems of the Middle East and Syria cannot be resolved so long as the Kurdish problem remains unsolved”.
The following speakers adopted a similar line, saying that they did not want Syria to be partitioned but, on the contrary, proposed a model applicable to the country as a whole. That it is to the credit of Rojava’s federal project that certain languages which have suffered from discrimination for the last decades are, at present accepted there as bases for teaching. Thus in the new academic year just beginning, 50 teachers in Jezirah Canton will be able to start their lessons in Syriac, in keeping with the provisional Constitution of the Federal Region, since the three official languages of the Canton are now Kurdish, Arabic and Syriac.
On 3rd, September the KDP representative for Mosul, Said Mamuzini, told the Russian news agency Sputnik that the great offensive against this town would be launched during the first week of October. The week before, on the 23rd, another Peshmerga commander who was due to take part in the attack, Sheikh Jaffar Mostafa, had announced that the Peshmergas would not enter the city but would limit themselves to entering the areas considered as Kurdish, adding that a joint Erbil-Baghdad committee had been set up, under American supervision, to co-ordinate the operation and resolve any problem in common. Mostafa also indicated that the units of popular defence (Shiite militia) had been informed that they could not enter the city during the first phases of the offensive. This is because surrounding Mosul involves many partners: Iraqi Army and military police, the popular mobilisation units, the international coalition against ISIS and the Kurdish Peshmergas, which are holding, in particular, the supply lines to the East and West of the city.
Nevertheless, mutual understanding between all the forces involved is not easy, as interests diverge at times. One head of Shiite militia recently stated that his forces “didn’t need Peshmergas to retake the city”, while the Iraqi central government fears that the Peshmergas would keep those areas they retook from the Jihadists since the operation would be covering, to a considerable extent, areas that are disputed between the Kurdistan Region and Baghdad. The tensions between the various forces present on the same area have sometimes degenerated into clashes between Peshmergas and Iraqi security forces, as in the city of Tuz Khurmatu, where a member of the latter was wounded when his vehicle tried to force its way past a Peshmerga control point.
As the preparations for the offensive against Mosul progressed, the clashes between the Peshmergas and ISIS continued all through the month. On the 2nd, two Peshmergas were killed and two others wounded by booby traps during a jihadist attack just at the above locality of Tuz Khurmatu. These deaths occurred after the attack had been repulsed and the Jihadists were in retreat. On the evening of the 14th, ISIS launched an attack on the Peshmerga lines at Bashiqa, 23 Km North of Mosul, causing one seriously injured casualty who later died in hospital. The jihadists were still making daily attacks but, according to the zones concerned, had lost the ability for close combat with the Peshmergas and limited themselves to long range shelling with their artillery. However, on the morning of the 16th, a Peshmerga was killed by a sniper and on the morning of the 18th six were killed on the Gwer, Khazir and Bashiqa fronts by a series of suicide attacks which were finally repulsed. Another attack, this time on the Shingal (Sinjar) front was repulsed on the morning of 26th on the village of Wanke, Northwest of Mosul, near the big dam, in the course of which a Major was killed. According to the Kurdish TV channel Rudaw, 1,800 Peshmergas have lost their lives and over 9,000 have been wounded since the summer of 2014 in this war against ISIS — which has also cost the KRG a billion dollars, that is about a a million a day… These expenses have been assumed without any contribution from the Baghdad government, which has stopped paying the KRG its share of the Federal budget while the price of oil (the Kurds’ only other source of income) collapsed. This default in payment has also hit the province of Kirkuk, which announced on the 1st of the month that it could not pay the 96 million dollars owing to subcontractors of some 300 projects debts that, in some cases, go back to 2014.
For the Mosul operation the US has provided a financial aid of 415 million dollars to pay the wages of units involved and has also played a major part in the logistic preparations, virtually completely equipping two Peshmerga brigades, one KDP- and the other PUK-affiliated. At the beginning of the month the Peshmergas’ pay was still four months in arrears but the needed funds arrived at a private bank in Baghdad. The other Kurdish civil servants unfortunately did not enjoy such external aid, and on the 5th the unpaid staff of the Sulaimaniyah tax office went on strike to demand payment of their arrears of pay. They were followed on the 7th by the city’s traffic control police and on the 12th the teachers again came out on the streets to demand their two months arrears. These demonstrations of both school and University teachers were taken up on the 26th in all the big and middle-sized towns, while the teachers Trade Union announced a boycott of the first day of the academic year, planned for that day — but without issuing strict instruction to its members. Many of the Kurdistan Regions inhabitants are affected by these economic and financial difficulties, according to the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs — nearly 68,000 people (out of 5.5 million) are living on less that 105,000 Iraqi dinars a month (about US$ 87), which according to the World Bank is the poverty threshold in Iraq and Kurdistan.
The “official” level of unemployment has tripled, rising from 4.8% in 2010 to 13.5% (though the real figure is probably much higher). On the 22nd, the KRG Minister of Planning, Ali Sindi, published in turn some estimates of the economic and social situation in Kurdistan. According to him, unemployment is much higher among young people and women, 29.4% for women as against only 9% for men and for people between 15 and 24 years of age, 69% for the women and 24% for the men. Sindi called on the international institutions, particularly the World Bank and the IMF to support the KRG 3-year reform plan that aims at providing incentives for the development of the private sector. At the moment 53% of the Region’s population depend on the Regional Government for their incomes. In this difficult economic context, the KRG fears that the battle for Mosul will aggravate the situation by provoking a flood of refugees. For example the little Kurdish town of Dibaga, normally with a population of 2,000, now has 38,000 inhabitants, mostly refugees, who have fled ISIS for a camp near the town... There is, however, one glimmer of hope in the figures given on the 19th by the NRT television channel — following the renewal of oil exports, which has reached 60,000 barrels a day for the previous 14 day the KRG could soon be capable of paying the wages of its civil servants. Taking into account the latest austerity measures and reductions in wages, these now amount to 430 million US dollars, while the latest oil exports should earn 652.
Regarding the internal political situation of the Kurdistan Region, this has hardly improved during September. The Erbil parliament has not yet been re-activated, while new divisions have appeared, this time in the very heart of the PUK, the party of the former Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani. On 2 September, the PUK’s two Assistant General Secretaries, Barham Saleh, former KRG Prime Minister and Kosrat Rasool, former Prime Minister and an important military commander, announced they had created a “Decision-making Body” to put an end to the irregularities in the way decisions are taken in the PUK. Very rapidly Lahur Talabani, head of the party’s Intelligence Service (Dezgayî Zaniyarî), Mala Bakhtiyar, Head of the Political Committee, and Hêro Talabani, the wife of the former leader, Jalal Talabani, stated that the new body had no legitimacy.
These internal tensions between PUK leaders come on top of disagreements about the Kurdistan Regions’s oil policies and especially follow the Baghdad-Erbil agreement on their joint exporting of the Kirkuk’s oil to Turkey. Hêro Talabani had already expressed her opposition to this agreement on 8th September, when she had stated that it was unfair to the inhabitants of Kirkuk. On the same day, the head of the Parliament’s Natural Resources Committee, Dr. Sherko Jawdat, accused (on his Facebook page) certain members of the PUK of exporting oil from Kirkuk to Iran without informing the KRG of it nor declaring the incomes obtained this way. However, Ahmad Askari, his opposite number for Kirkuk Province stated that he had not been informed of any illegal exports… Following these charges, on the 13th, the head of the Turkman Front, Arshad Salihi, expressed his concern that Kirkuk’s oil be taken over by a third party, whatever it might be, adding that the Turcomen had no information about the oil sharing agreement between Baghdad and Erbil and that they considered they had as much right to some of this oil as the Kurds. The accusations are being bandied about while Baghdad and Erbil, as well as members of the different communities inhabiting the Province, raise the issue of the future of Kirkuk Province (and of its oil) once ISIS has been driven out. According to certain statements made in 7 September by a Kurdish public figure, Siru Qadir, Masud Barzani proposed to the central government that, after ISIS had been driven out, Kirkuk Province be divided into three parts and that the residents of each of these new provinces chose their fate by referendum.
These conflicts inside the PUK have not prevented it and the Gorran (“Change”) movement from announcing, on the 11th, the uniting of their respective groups within the Baghdad Parliament as agreed by them on the last 14 May. The new block would have 30 seats (21 PUK and 9 Gorran). The day before, the four KRG Gorran Ministers suspended by the KDP Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, had sent letters of resignation to their party and to the KRG, justifying their decision by the deterioration of conditions in the Kurdistan Region.
In an interview given on the 25th to the Kurdish language radio programme of Voice of America the Chief of Staff of the Kurdistan Region’s Presidency, Fuad Hussein, pointed out that the President of the Region had made some propositions to solve the Region’s internal political crisis, suggesting that the Kurdish Parliament be reactivated with the PUK taking the Presidency and Gorran the post of second Deputy Prime Minister. Another suggestion was that the other political parties could elect three people to act as Speaker until the next elections, which would take place in 2017. Fouad Hussein added that Masud Barzani was ready to resign if someone else was ready to take on the Region’s Presidency. It remains to be seen if these proposals could be discussed between the different Regions’s different political parties.
Following the death on 7 September in Iranian Kurdistan of two KDPI activists, killed near Sardasht in an ambush of some pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) the KDPI has launched attacks against two pasdaran bases at Bokan — the first later the same day and the other the following morning. In retaliation, on the 17th, the Iranian artillery resumed, for the third time this year, its shelling of villages in the Sidakan sub-district, of Soran district, on the Iraqi side of the border, in particular the village of Barbzen. As on the two previous occasions (in June and August) Iran claimed it had shelled KDPI bases. The next evening , Sunday 18th, according to unconfirmed information from an official Iranian source, fighting broke out between pasdaran units and Peshmergas in the regions of Piranshar and Sardasht in Western Azerbaijan Province (a mainly Kurdish Province whose capital is Urumieh, and which also contains the Kurdish town of Mahabad). Several members of the Iranian forces, including two Majors, are said to have been killed. The KDPI deputy General Secretary, Hassan Sharafi, stated on the 29th that his party was continuing its actions in Iranian Kurdistan (Rojhelat) to defend the Kurds living there, affirming that this struggle was all the more necessary following the nuclear agreement between the international community and the Islamic Republic. The KDPI’s decision to reactivate its military actions on Iranian territory, taken last March after 20 years of tacit truce is due, according to Sharafi to the intensification of the repression hitting the Kurdish regions of the country since the agreements — he describes it as a form of self-defence.
It is true that news coming from Iranian Kurdistan unceasingly give the names of people condemned and even hanged for imaginary crimes — including many Kurds incarcerated for … “hostility to God” (moharabeh). Can we really characterize as a piece of good news the fact that a Kurdish activist and journalist, Adnan Hassanpour, imprisoned on this charge, is finally released after having passed ten years in prison? On 11 September Hassanpour, was finally able to see his family. Arrested in 2006, found guilty and sentenced to death in 2007, he had his sentence annulled on appeal and then was again tried for espionage and membership of an illegal political party, which earned him another 15 year sentence, later reduced to 10. He seems to have been arrested essentially because of his journalistic activities: founding and chief editor of a weekly that was rather critical of the government. The weekly, Aso, was published in Kurdish and in Persian, in his home town of Mariwan. Hassanpour was arrested after having written about violent demonstrations that had shaken the Kurdish areas in 2005. In his articles he had also frequently dealt with social issues, like poverty. Aso was accused of threatening Iran’s national security and Hassanpour has remained longer in prison for a single charge than any other journalist in Iran. So Human Rights organisations and journalists mobilised to defend him, and awarded him several international prizes. In 2007 his lawyer, Khalil Bahramian, was arrested at the airport as he was preparing to embark for Sienna, to receive one of these prizes in Hassanpour’s name.
The more than dubious relations that Turkey, under the AKP’s control, continues to have with various Jihadist groups raises more and more questions to observers, whatever their camp in the Syrian civil war. Thus the anti-ISIS coalition as well as the Russians have called on Turkey to stop its strikes on the Kurds and, on 2nd September a leading official of the Russian Foreign Office, Ilya Rogachev, stated that the former Al-Nosra Front (now renamed Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham) was still receiving reinforcements across the Turkish borders. From the US side, the Voice of America (VOA) site published an article on the 19th explicitly raising the question of Turkey’s relations with the Jihadists and notably of the composition of the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) units that accompanied the Turkish armoured force in their incursion into Rojava. A recently broadcast video shows members of the American Special Forces obliged to leave a town after it capture by the FSA, who were shouting “Death to America” or “Down with imperialism” has raised many questions in the US. The way that the Turkish President minimised the incident by maintaining that Turkey only supported “moderate” rebels has not even convinced people in Turkey itself. This is shown by this extract from an article in reply to him by Kadri Gürsel, editor of Cumhuriyet, republished by VOA: “There are 8 to 10 armed groups trained and armed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia organised by Turkey and also receiving aid from the CIA. I do not agree with this way of describing them as “moderate”. They are Jihadists, they are all Jihadists and the Jihadists are at one another’s throats. We can see ISIS activists being transformed into “moderate islamists” overnight”.
Other factors raise doubts about Turkey’s relations with the Jihadists. Thus on the 12th the Jihadists of the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (ex Al-Nosra) shelled Afrin, causing the deaths of several civilians — a worrying event when it is compared with the shelling of Afrin by the Turkish Army less than four days earlier. Finally, on the 20th, Houria Al-Slami, a leading official of the Group of forced disappearances in the UN Council for Human Rights, declared in his report to the Council on her visit to Turkey from 14 to 18 March 2015, that she had documents proving that ISIS had sold Yezidi women in Turkey, adding that that when she tried to meet the authorities on this issue she met with a refusal...
Another whistle-blower recently sounded the alarm about the complicit relations between the Jihadists and the “AKP State”. An official of the anti-terrorist law from 2010 to 2012, then of the struggle against organised crime until 2014, Ahmet Sait Yayla, now a lecturer in sociology at Harran University, has recently co-directed in the United States a book with Anne Speckhard, a specialist in the psychology of radicalisation, a work that brings together and analyses numerous interviews with ISIS defectors: ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of Confronting the Caliphat. In an interview given in mid-September to Insurge Intelligence, an organisation of independent journalists, Yayla reports how he ended up by resigning from his responsibilities after noting that he could not fight the ISIS leaders effectively because of the support they enjoyed at the highest level of the State. Even the arrest of his 19-year-old son, a student of international relations, could not silence him, and his revelations amplify those of the daily Cumhuriyet, which had earned its authors Can Dündar and Erdem Gül a charge of high treason. They had shown with supporting evidence, that a convoy of the Turkish NGO, the IHI (the same that had fitted out the boat for Gaza that was afterwards attacked by the Israelis) had been used to supply arms to the Syrian jihadists under the protection of the MIT (Turkish Intelligence Service). Yayla declared that the IHI had become one of the main partners of the Turkish Agency for international co-operation, the TIKA, and had been systematically used for several years past to supply arms to many jihadist groups, “not only ISIS”. Another of Yayla’s worrying revelations is that the director of TIKA from 2003 to 2007 was none other than Hakan Fidan, who has since then become the head of MIT. According to the former anti-terrorist official, Fidan had been, in the 90s, the principal suspect of a series of attacks aimed at Left wing intellectuals. Amongst those killed were the academic and founder of the SHP, Bahriye Ücok, (assassinated in 1990 by a booby-trapped parcel), the Cumhuriyet journalist Uğur Mumctu (assassinated in 1993 by the explosion of his car and claimed by several islamist groups) and yet another academic and editor of Cumhuriyet, Ahmet Taner Kışlalı (also assassinated by a booby-trapped parcel in 1999).
Yayla reports that the inquest revealed that Fidan was a member of the Turkish Hezbollah, an organisation manipulated by the Army (if not directly created by it) and responsible for many acts of violence, kidnappings, acts of torture and extrajudicial executions of Left wing and nationalist Kurds. Fidan had to flee to Germany then to the United States. After the AKP’s arrival in office, the proceedings against him were dropped and he was able to return and regain his post as director of TIKA before becoming head of MIT… Yayla also exposes the organic links between Hezbollah, ISIS and al-Qaida.
Whatever the degree of truth in Yayla’s revelations, one cannot fail to see that Turkey so far avoids giving any information on the composition of the FSA units with which it is cooperating in Syria. Moreover observers know that the rebel fighters readily change they group they join and the groups equally change their names and allegiances… For the moment the geographically strategic position of Turkey and its membership of NATO enable it to be impose its will in the field. Thus Russia has announced its renewal of anti-terrorist dialogue with Turkey and United States have, at least tacitly, accepted its incursion. For the moment the Turkish authorities openly point to a possible extension of their operations further South into Syria to take part in the operations against Raqqa — so the main question that arises is whether, locally, they could continue to control these shady allies, and, at international level, whether they can still enjoy the confidence of their allies.
The Fourth International Film Festival at Dohuk, in Iraqi Kurdistan Iraqi (Duhok IFF) began on 9th September with eight films in competition for the best international film and 17 films in the class of “International Cinema”, including several Scandinavian films out of a total of 126 films on offer to the public. According to Hiwa Aloji, responsible for relations with the media, the Festival’s main theme this year is the border — the question of exploring the role played by the presence of frontiers or borders in Kurdish culture. However, the first film shown during the festival was the Kurdish film Reşeba, “Tempest”, which is entitled in English The Dark Wind directed by Hussein Hassan, which depicts recent events in Iraqi Kurdistan, and the Sinjar disaster in particular. The scenario is a love story between two young people who got engaged just before the assault waged by ISIS against the Sinjar region and the Yezidis, followed by the genocide perpetrated against them by the jihadists.
However, even before the Festival had finished on Friday 16th, a group of about 30 Yezidi lawyers had met to on the 12th to begin working on lodging an official complaint against Hussein Hassan. They explained that the movie depicts their community in a negative manner. One of them declared that the film contains scenes that do not conform to the reality of Yezidi Kurds. Other Yezidis criticised the film for showing them to be “conservative and backward”. Already during the showing, protests had broken out in the audience, the spectators believing that, in the scenario, the young girl, who escaped from ISIS was then assassinated by her own family.
The director, Hussein Hassan, stated to the Kurdish Television channel Rudaw that the film had been made in collaboration with the religious authorities of the Yezidi community and officials of the Yezidi Cultural Centre at Lalêsh. Nevertheless, one of the members of this Centre pointed out that in the last scene of the film, the manner her father and brothers treated the young girl returning from the jihadist organisation’s clutches was too negative and did not correspond with reality...
The Yezidi genocide is still continuing even as this bulletin is being published and at least 3,000 Yezidi women are still in ISIS’s hands, as Nadia Murad, a young Yezidi activist never fails to recall. She has just been appointed good will Ambassador for the dignity of survivors of trafficking in human being. These events obviously raise the question of the way in which art, including that of cinema, can legitimately deal “live” such painful subjects without adding to the pain of victims.