The Turkish “Euphrates Shield” operation is continuing in North Syria, especially the attack on ISIS-occupied al-Bab, that the Turkish Army wants to take before the Kurds do. On the 4th, Peter Cook, the Pentagon’s spokesman, announced that the anti-ISIS coalition had sent planes to support the Turks at al-Bab … without carrying air strikes. The Turkish authorities were furious at what they consider a lack of support by the United States of their attack on the town. They are hoping that the new US Administration would chose Turkey rather than the Syrian Democratic Forces as their principal ally in Syria — especially as its kernel is the YPG Kurdish fighters, affiliated to the PYD party (Democratic Union Party) for which Mr. Erdoğan has a quasi obsessional hatred. The Turkish Presidency’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalın, bluntly asked on the Kanal 24 channel why the US, which uses the Incirlik air base, did not support its NATO allies with air strikes. The nessage was quite clear: Incirlik against a better support for Turkish opérations. On the 17th, as the coalition spokesman was announcing air strikes on al-Bab, the New York Times revealed that Turkey had systematically delayed approval of US air missions taking off from the base. Reflecting the development of complex political relations between Turkey, the anti-ISIS coalition and Russia, the latter announced on the 19th, that Russian jets had, for, the first time the day before, cooperated with Turkish planes in hitting ISIS positions in the suburbs of al-Bab. On the 30th, President Erdoğan stated that Turkish operations in Northern Syria would end with the capture of al-Bab, an alteration of the previous official discourse that the Turkish forces and its rebel allies would then attack Manbij, liberated from ISIS by the SDF last August. But in between, the Turkish Army has been bogged down before al-Bab for several weeks and lost 65 men, so analysts doubt that it would risk advancing further South (at the risk of coming up against the Syrian Army) before knowing better the position of the new Trump Administration regarding the SDF. The Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yıldırım, nevertheless stated, on the 29th, that Turkey would continue to strike at the YPG and le PYD.
The Turks have not limited their Syrian operations to al-Bab. According to several YPG communiqués, dated early in January, they have shelled several villages east of Kobané and two East of Manbij, causing 3 deaths and 15 injured, all civilians. Moreover, on 3rd January, in the Jezeerah canton, far to the East, helicopters entered Rojava to fire on some villages between al-Malikiyah and Çil Axa, while ground troops occupied the region of Terbe Spiye, to the East of Al-Qahtaniya. The Rmeilan air base, where some hundreds of US troops are stationed is a mere 20 km to the East. In Jerablus, which it has occupied since the summer, Turkey has created a pro-Turkish police force as if they intended to remain for a long while…
The Turkish Army shows no more respect for the resources of the Syrian territory they occupy that of the Kurdish towns in their own country. According to several Syrian Kurdish publications it has cut down 2,717 olive trees near Qarmatlaq village, in Sheyeh Province to prepare erecting the long barrier they are building to separate Syrian from Turkish Kurdistan. Last year, Turkey had already attacked the agriculture of Afrin by cutting off its principal source of water, the Black River, a tributary of the Orontes, whose source is in the Kartal Mountains. It is well known that Turkey has never hesitated at cutting the flow of rivers born on its soil as a means of exerting pressure on its neighbours...
The Turkish military presence, although it is a danger for the SDF, has not prevented them from their own Euphrates Anger operation against Raqqa, the “capital” of the Syrian wing of ISIS, with the support of the international coalition. Even the ISIS “Economic Minister” was killed in a Kurdish-American operation against Kibir, between Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor while the SDF repelled 3 days of jihadist attacks on Swede, a village in the West of Raqqa Province taken by the SDF in December, and considered strategic for ISIS’s movements. The Coventry-based Centre for Human Rights in Syria (that has a network of informants inside Syria) stated that the SDF had captured the Jaabar Castle, on the banks of Lake Assad, only 4 km from the Tabaq Dam. According to intelligence reports, ISIS had started to evacuate towards Raqqa the prisoners they had locked up at Tabqa. On Friday 13th, the SDF announced they had regained over 133 villages in the West of the Province since the beginning of the second phase of their operation. On the 16th they also published statistics showing that 2480 Km² had been liberated, 260 ISIS terrorists killed and 40 car bombs neutralised. On the 31st the Pentagon for the first time supplied armoured vehicles to the SDF, which the YPG was careful to state had gome to the Arab fighters and not to the Kurds. The YPG spokesman for the Raqqa operation, Talal Silo, stated that it was the sign of an much enhanced support to the SDF by the new US Administration.
ISIS remains a determined enemy. On the 4th, it attacked the YPG Headquarters, South of the town of Hassakeh, causing dozens of deaths amongst the fighters — but without succeeding in retaking the positions lost a year earlier. Then on the 14th, after reinforcing its troops, the organisation launched its most violent attack on Deir ez-Zor since the year before, according to the Observatory on Human Rights in Syria (OHRS). It cut off a strategic airport from the territory held by the government, obliging the regime that holds the town to use air strikes. Most of the Deir ez-Zor Province is held by ISIS, but the Jihadists have been trying in vain to capture the capital since 2014.
All these military operations have been taking place against a background of major diplomatic changes, dominated by the Turco-Russian initiative of “sponsoring” a national truce on 30 December with the effect of excluding the Western powers – in the middle of the US political transition. Despite its reassuring statements, the Rojava administration has legitimate reasons to be worried. It is significant that the PYD co-President, Salih Muslim, has stated that “the various Kurdish political powers should become more co-ordinated”, calling for holding an “inter-Kurdish” conference.
Adding to the uncertainty, the “Turco-Russian process” was rapidly coming apart. On the 3rd of December the UN Security Council unanimously supported the initiative but on 3rd January a dozen rebel groups suspended their discussions with the government because of its breaches of the ceasefire: it never, indeed, ceased shelling the strategic Barada valley that supplies Damascus with water. On the 16th several rebel groups announced they would participate in the talks between the regime and the opposition organised by the Russians, Turks and Iranians at Astana in Kazakhstan on 23 January. On the 21st, the US State Department indicated that it would not be present there because of the change of Administration taking place. However, these talks only seem to be taking place because of the pressure being exerted by their foreign sponsors on their Syrian clients, and have produced no tangible results. On the 23rd, the Free Syrian Army rejected the regime’s demand that the opposition groups taking part in discussions should lay down their arms, and indicated that its delegation would discuss only the ceasefire, excluding any political discussion if a political transition process including the departure of President Bachar el-Assad was not undertaken with full UN support. The atmosphere at Astana was icy cold all along, with the Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations, Bachar Jaafari, describing the rebel delegations as “representatives of terrorist groups”. The conference finally gave birth to a commitment to maintain the truce and pursue the struggle against ISIS and the local al-Qaida branch — signed by... the sponsors, Russia, Turkey and Iran!
As in all the previous such meetings, the Rojava administration, which controls 20% of Syria’s territory and 12.5% of its population, was not invited — essentially because of Turkey’s fierce opposition (the Turkish Foreign Minister had declared on the 14th that if the US wanted to invite the PYD it might as well invite ISIS…). On the other hand Turkey had invited three leaders of the Syrian Kurdish National Council (CNK) — that brings together a dozen parties and groups opposed to the PYD and supported by Masud Barzani’s Iraqi KDP — Ibrahim Biro, Abdulhakim Bashar and Darwish Mirkan. In all logic, the PYD stated repeatedly that it would not observe any agreement made in its absence, adding that discussions held without it, be they in Astana or Geneva IV, would be unable to result in any settlement.
While the Americans continued their military cooperation with the SDF without wanting to commit themselves at the political level, the Russians, for their part, tried to have political negotiations with the Kurds. To avoid head on confrontation with the Turks, the Russians paradoxically got round Astana by inviting the Syrian Kurds to their air base of Hmeimim, South of Lattaqia and even to Damascus on the 13th (guaranteeing the security of those taking part). Several Kurdish parties took part, including the PYD and the CNK, though some Kurdish parties refused to come to areas controlled by the regime. Then, on the 27th, after Astana was over, the Russians invited a PYD delegation to Moscow, including Khaled Issa, its representantive in France, Asya Abdullah, its co-President and Anwar Muslim, administrative head of the Kobanê Canton. The delegation met Sergey Lavrov, as well as representatives of the Syrian opposition. On the 31st, Khaled Issa made some points about this meeting to the Sputnik News Agency: “Mr. Lavrov gave us some information on the project for a constitution for Syria that Russia has drawn up (and proposed at Astana). He told us that the text was not yet finalised and that we were free to propose any amendments we considered appropriate”. He added that the PYD representatives had put forward their own project to the Russian officials and to the representatives of the opposition who had declared themselves ready to study them. Similarly, the PYD would continue these discussions at the Geneva negotiations — that he said was approved by Russia. One of the positive points for the Kurds was that the proposal altered the name of the State to “Syrian Republic” as against its present name of “Arab Syrian Republic”, and stated that Kurdish should be recognised as an official language along Arabic in the North of the country. The document avoids using the word “federation” but suggests a decentralised State with regional Assemblies having some legislative and administrative powers. Nevertheless, on the 31st the Syrian Government against rejected any form of Kurdish autonomy and is said to have proposed amendments to alter the Russian draft. The Russians seem to be seeking a settlement to the Kurdish issue — even against the regime`s views — that would then allow the latter to concentrate on its other problems and, after saving the regime, would certainly in a position to impose it its own solution... The Americans, for their part, made a little step forward politically by sending the Kurds on the 27th an invitation to Washington for discussions at the end of February — the first official invitation by the State Department to Syrian Kurds. This time, however, it is is to members of the KNC who will be met by Trump’s new American Administration.
In all these diplomatic great manoeuvres which are just beginning, everyone wants to talk to the Kurds — and to different Kurds … Nothing is yet set in stone, and there is still considerable danger of an agreement being made without them — or even against them.
On a military level, operations in Mosul continued this month, mainly carried out by the Iraqi Army since the Peshmergas had completed their part, as agreed. On 1st January a major of the anti-terrorist forces stated to AFP that the Iraqis held 60% of Eastern Mosul following fierce house-to-house fighting. On the 5th the Iraqis announced they controlled 65-70% of the Eastern quarters, largely thanks to cooperation from the inhabitants and declared they expected to reach the Tigris in the next few days. On the 9th they took control of the Baladiyat quarter and surrounded Sukkar, driving the jihadists back to the river. On the 13th Mosul University was taken and another bridge across the Tigris reached. On the 16th the troops entered the Shurta quarter before announcing, on the 18th, exactly 3 months after the launching of the operation, that they had taken the whole of the Eastern part of the city. The Iraqi command indicated that plans for taking over West Mosul were already being drafted. On the 20th ISIS, anticipating an attack, blew up, next to the river, the biggest hotel in West Mosul, the Mosul Hotel, in order to prevent it being used as a base or crossing point.
Fighting continued on other fronts. On the 5th, the Iraqi Army and tribal militia, supported by coalition air strikes, launched an offensive further South, in the West of Anbar province. Fighting also took place in the Kirkuk region, which has been remaining a sensitive area since the jihadist attack last October: ISIS still controls at the South of Kirkuk the important town of Hawija, for which no operation seems to be drawn up, probably because of the priority given to Mosul. On the 13th, three Peshmergas were wounded while repelling an attack by snipers South of Kirkuk. On the 16th the town’s security forces arrested three people suspected of being ISIS members, one of whom connected with an attack carried out in Baghdad the week before. On the 31st, the Kurdistan Security Council announced it had in the night of the 30th arrested several jihadists who were preparing an attack on Kirkuk as well as the principal organiser of the attack on the Ainkaw quarter (Erbil main Christian quarter) in 2015. Finally, nearer the Iranian border, a Fayli Kurdish commander from the Hashd al-Shaabi, Hayder Ali (nom de guerre Abou Karrar) was killed in the night of the 14th by an ISIS ambush 40 km South of Khanaqîn.
Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly clear that the fall of Mosul will not mean the end of the Jihadist danger. On the 10th the Defence Secretary of the Obama Administration, Ash Carter, in the last press statement of his term of office, suggested that the US might keep troops in Iraq after Mosul was retaken because of the danger of Jihadist guerrillas. On the 21st the KRG’s Peshmergas Ministry announced that the US would arm two new Peshmerga brigades in 2017.
Fighting still generated a flood of displaced persons that has been increasingly difficult to manage by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) or the Kirkuk Provincial authorities. Both at present shelter 500,000 people displaced from the Provinces of Nineveh, Salahaddin, Diyala and Al-Anbar. According to figures published on the 14th and 15th, at least 90,000 displaced people since the start of operations on 17 October have found shelter in camps set upon Kurdistan near Dohuk and Erbil and 3,000 people are fleeing Mosul daily — 70% of whom arrive in Kurdistan. Due to the food shortage in the besieged city, the IPDs number doubled within the last 10 days. The total number of displaced persons in Kurdistan has now reached 29% of the population, and the KRG expects another 500,000 will flee following the coming fighting. On the 29th, the KRG officially asked for aid from the international community to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.
The KRG is already faced with high economic and social tensions following unpopular reductions of wages and delays in paying them as well as the exasperation of the inhabitants at the degradation of public services. A general strike of teachers with boycott of classes began at the start of term, with periodical demonstrations against the cuts and delays: the 2nd at Sulaimaniyeh, Halabja and Kalar, then on the 5th and 14th in front of the Directorate of Education in Suleimaniyah, with a temporary suspension of the movement on the 16th. On the 19th, following a demonstration against electricity cuts, a power station at Chamchamal was the target of rocket attacks — something that had never been seen before in Kurdistan. According to Aras Khoshnaw, an official of the Kurdistan Region’s Centre for Strategic Information and Research, the KRG’s expenses dropped by 70% in 2016 while the incomes increased to 25%, minus the Customs revenue. Other measures are being drawn up like making refuse collection payable, either on the water bill, or entrusting it to private companies… This could well be insufficient, as shows this declaration (intended as reassuring) by Rabar Sidiq, deputy Minister of Finance, according to which economic conditions should improve in 2017... “if the price of oil increases again, the reforms system we have set up succeeds, and if the war against ISIS comes to an end”. In shorter term, to lighten the burden on civil servants whose salaries have been reduced, Kurdistan’s Provincial councils approved on the 10th the creation of cheques to complement the salaries paid in cash, which could be used to pay for government services like water and electricity.
On the political level, thinks continue to advance very slowly and the Region’s parties continue to meet without reaching agreements. The KDP and PUK are trying to update their 2007 strategic agreement so as to propose a common plan to the other parties; within the PUK discussions are continuing to try and reconcile the two factions that have been opposing one another for months. On the 7th several political leaders from the PDK then the Islamic League have pointed out that the elections, in principle planned for September, might be postponed because of the military situation and the financial and political difficulties. The principal deadlock issue is the way of appointing the Region’s President. Whereas the KDP wants a strong President elected by universal suffrage, Gorran prefers a President with limited powers elected by Parliament. The provisional Constitution adopted by the Erbil Parliament in 2009 is relatively presidential, but it has not yet been approved by referendum — a consultation that Gorran also rejects. On the 24th, however, after the necessary budget had been approved, the Electoral Commission announced that it was starting the preparations for general elections, the legislative and Presidential as well, set at the 6th November — provisionally. These elections could also include a referendum on self-determination, opening the way to the Region’s independence.
Erbil-Baghdad relations are still tense, both regarding oil and the territories disputed between the two governments. On the 5th, replying to the Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Jaffari, the Peshmergas Minister declared that the latter would not withdraw from the territories recovered from ISIS before the Mosul operation. On the 10th, the Khanaqîn Kurdish leaders expressed their concern at the way the Shiites Hashd al-Shaabi militia were approaching their town. They plan to setup a base in Palkana village and are trying to recruit Kurds. This area has already experienced periods of tension in the past, which went so far as to involve confrontations between the Peshmergas and the Iraqi Army or Shiite militia… On the 27th, a leading official of the Peshmergas Ministry announced he had asked Hashd al-Shaabi for explanations after one of their groups had shelled the Peshmergas in Sinjar. The latter replied by announcing an enquiry after “mistakes” and describing the Peshmergas as “brothers”. However, in Sinjar, the situation is further complicated by tensions between the Peshmergas and a section of the Yezidi population, who blame the Peshmergas for having abandoned them to ISIS in 2014 and have since then become closer to the PKK — that the KDP want to leave the region. An agreement could have been found between the KDP and the PKK whereby the latter would peacefully withdraw, leaving behind only its Sinjar Resistance Units (Yekîneyên Berxwedana Şengalê, YBŞ) and some Yezidi Women’s Units (Yekîneyên Jinên Êzîdî, YJE) composed of the region’s inhabitants, who would remain there to protect the population. However the issue goes beyond an internal Kurdistan one an takes on a regional aspect. On the 8th, during a joint press conference with the Region’s President, Masud Barzani, the Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yildırım, arriving from Baghdad, declared that Turkey would never accept that the PKK remain in Sinjar or expand to other Iraqi regions. The next day Sarhad Varto, the KCK spokesman (the KCK is the PKK’s political wing) answered by accusing Turkey of trying to provoke tension between Baghdad and the Kurdish Region — and between “Kurdish brothers” — only to ensure its own presence in Northern Iraq: “The leaders of the PKK are negotiating with Erbil, Baghdad and the international coalition on the manner of governing Sinjar and on the PKK’s withdrawal. We believe Sinjar must be governed by its people — a process that it is the business of the Peshmergas, the guerrilla, the Iraqi Army and the international coalition to control”. Varto called for the immediate withdrawal of the Turkish troops stationed at Bashiqa. On the 20th, the Iraqi Prime Minister’s spokesman, Saad al-Hadithi, declared that the central government and the KRG had reached an agreement to set up a common force, which would be responsible for “re-establishing order” in Sinjar — by expelling the armed groups. The moment for creating this force will depend on the progress of the common operation on Mosul.
However, the next day, the Mayor of Sinjar, Mahma Khalil (PDK), accused the central government of helping the PKK to remain in Sinjar and on the 25th BasNews (close to the PDK) published a piece of news saying that the PKK had formed in Sinjar a Yezidi unit called “Sinjar Special Force”, registered with the Hashd al-Shaabi and, as such, paid by Baghdad. On the same day, the YBŞ announced the beginning of discussions with the KDP to create a joint force in Sinjar…
It is probably in this tense context that one must assess the KRG’s closing and then re-opening of the NGO Yazda that was created in 2015 in particular to provide psychological assistance to Yezidi women liberated from ISIS’s clutches. In the afternoon of Monday 2nd, Dohuk police closed the Yazda premises in that town, accusing the organisation of “illegal activities”. According to the Human Rights Watch research worker Belkis Wille, the reason for this closing might have been a project of the NGO to help about 3,000 to re-settle in Sinjar, which would have implied providing fresh supplies that might have fallen into the PKK’s hands… However, on the 5th, the Director of the Kurdish Department for NGOs, Akram Jamo, criticised this closure and stated that only his office could take such a measure and only on the basis of legal warrants. On the 10thYazda met the head of the KRG’s international relations office, Falah Mustafa Bakir, and on the 18th published a communiqué announcing its re-opening, attributing the original problem to a mistranslation that led to the idea of illegal activities.
Beyond Kurdistan, it is the future of Iraq that is uncertain. On the 4th, the Arab Sunni leader and Vice-President, Osama al-Nujaifi, stated that his community had “a clear plan for a post-ISIS Iraq: the setting up of “Regions” where Sunnis and other specific groups could govern themselves and preserve their culture and economic interests within a united Iraq. Declaring his total lack of confidence in the central government, he insisted on the importance of international guarantees to oblige it to abide by any commitment it would accept.
The first convictions connected with the failed “coup d’état” of 15 July last arrived: life imprisonment… On January 5th, the Erzurum Court passed this sentence on two officers who had received commands after the coup. On the same day 380 fresh arrest warrants were issued for businessmen suspected of “gülenism”. However, apart from the putch excuse, the repression has widely hit high and low: journalists, teachers, civil society, HDP elected representatives… A report by the Association of Journalists in Turkey (Türkiye Gazeteciler Cemiyeti, TGC) dated the 4th, counts for 2016 the cancellation of 760 press cards, 839 journalists brought before a court simply for having done their job, and 144 journalists in prison over the New Year. This is a sorry record for Turkey, with a third of journalists imprisoned in the world since this “coup d’état”, nearly 195 of the media closed. In the Reporters without Borders classification of press freedom for 2016, Turkey comes in 151st position, between Tajikistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Turkish representative of Reporters without Borders, Erol Onderoğlu, has himself been investigated: together with Sebnem Korur Fincancı, President of the Foundation for Human Rights in Turkey (TİHV) and the journalist Ahmet Nesin, he appeared on Wednesday 8th in a highly publicised trial where all face sentences of over 14 years jail for “terrorist propaganda” after accepting, out of solidarity with the Kurds, to collaborate in an issue of the daily Özgür Gündem. This is the came case in which the novelist Aslı Erdoğan was (temporarily?) released on 29th December. The foreign journalists face less danger than their Turkish colleagues but are nevertheless also closely watched: Rod Nordland, of the New York Times was stopped by the border police and then expelled to London on the 17th, because of his articles about the Kurds — particularly the one describing the terrible situation at Diyarbekir. Even writing books has become risky: on the 28th the Kurdish journalist Arzu Demir, working for the news agencies ETHA and ANF, was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment for “propaganda for a terrorist organisation”, “apologies for crime and criminals” and “incitement to crime”: she had written two books, one on the revolutionary development in Rojava, Devrimin Rojava Hali, and the other on the place of women amongst the PKK fighters, Dağın Kadın Hali. They each earned her 3 years jail. The conditions of detention are such that the “Prisons Commission” of the Association for Human Rights (İnsan Hakları Derneği — İHD) organised a demonstration in Istanbul on the 21st to condemn them. The demonstrators demanded that prisons of “Type F” be closed and displayed banners bearing the names of the 47 prisoners who died of illness in the course of 2016.
The repression was also aimed at everything related to the Kurds. On the 31st, a police raid closed the Kurdish Institute of Istanbul, founded in 1992 under the direction of Musa Anter, where research was carried out on Kurdish culture, language and literature. Its members, researchers as well as students declared that they would continue their work. At Diyarbekir, the Ehmedê Xanî Language Academy, opened in 2013, was also closed and sealed up. These last closures hit a total of 94 associations accused of being a threat to national security and of being linked to the PKK. After the closure came the despoliation: the property of the Kurdish Institute was seized by the Turkish Insurance and Deposit Fund (Tasarruf Mevduatı Sigorta Fonu, TMSF). The Kurdish language, indeed, seems to be back as a favourite target: six Kurdish language teachers of the Artuklu University (Mardin) have been fired on the 8th. On the 24th, the “trustee” replacing the Mayor of the Edremit district (Van Province) had the multi-lingual panels and street signs, which included Kurdish, Armenian and English, removed. Some symbolic sites were also targeted: on the 19th the police destroyed the Roboski monument, in Diyarbekir’s Rojava Park, commemorating the 34 young victims of the massacre perpetrated by the Turkish Air Force on 28 December 2011 near the village of that name in Şırnak Province.
However, the HDP, the progressive “pro-Kurdish” organisation and the only still active opposition to Erdoğan and his totalitarian projects is the main target of repression. Its elected representatives are still being arrested by the dozen: on the 3rd, the assistant co-mayor of Dersim, Huseyin Tunç, was replaced by an appointed “trustee” and the Member of Parliament Ziya Pir was arrested for “insulting an official”. While the MP Leyla Birlik, arrested early in November for “links with the PKK” was released on the 4th, after having testified before the Şırnak Public Prosecutor, the HDP co-Presidents of Istanbul Province, Aysel Güzel and Doğan Erbaş, were arrested the next day with seven other cadres: Ali İpekli, Ramazan Çetinçakmak, Tayyip Arslan, Ayşe Karadağ, Feremez Erkan, Muhittin Aslanboğa and Süleyman Özcan. Two others, Nasır Tonguç and Ferit Yalçın were placed under house arrest. On the 6th, the co-mayor of Kulp district (Diyarbekir Province), Sadiye Süer Baran, the co-mayor the Viranşehir, district, Emrullah Cin, and both co-Mayors of Bozova (Urfa Province), Zeynel Taş and Fatma Doğan, were arrested. The co-mayor of Ömerli district, (Mardin Province), Süleyman Tekin, having been arrested on the 5th, the Mayor, Erol Korkmaz was appointed “trustee” in his place. On January 6th, 52 “trustees” had been appointed to run HDP municipal authorities and 76 co-mayors were under arrest. On the 14th, the HDP MP Nursel Aydogan, arrested on 4 November at the same time as 11 other HDP members, including both of its co-Presidents, was sentenced to almost 5 years of prison for his activities on behalf of a terrorist organisation without being a member of it: she had attended the funeral of a PKK guerrilla… Many of the HDP Members of Parliament accused of links with the PKK have also been forcibly taken to court by the police to make statements: Batman’s Ayşe Acar Başaran on the 20th, the M.P. and film director Sırrı Süreyya Önder in the 23rd, four M.P.s on the 25: Sanliurfa’s Osman Baydemir, Diyarbakir’s, Imam Tascier, Iğdir’s Mehmet Emin Adıyaman, Muş’s Ahmet Yıldırım. The party’s spokesman and M.P. for Kars, Ayhan Bilgen, was similarly forcibly taken to the Diyarbekir Court on the 30th. Released after being heard, he was again arrested the next day for “participating in a terrorist organisation”.
Two other M.P.s, Huda Kaya and the woman Adana’s M.P. Meral Danis Bestas, were placed in detention on the 28th before their trial, and on the 31st the HDP’S legal consultant Meral Danis Bestas, was arrested. The police also launched an enquiry into dozens of municipal staff who had protested against the arrest on 7th November of the co-mayor of the metropolitan municipality of Van, Bakir Kaya. According to the present laws against demonstrations, they also risk imprisonment. On the 30th, the Vice-President of the HDP Parliamentary Group and M.P. for Diyarbekir, Idris Baluken, was conditionally released after spending 3 months in prison. He faces a life sentence for four distinct charges of links with the PKK, all connected with statements made in the course of his mission as a member of the HDP delegation to Imrali. It should be noted that most of these charges were drawn up by prosecutors now imprisoned and accused of being linked to the attempted “coup d’état.”.
The HDP considers that all these arrests of its elected representatives that have been taking place for the last few weeks — especially that of the party’s spokesman — are aimed at preventing it from campaigning against the constitutional changes that will have to be voted on by referendum in April. The debates in Parliament on this project began on Monday 9th. The HDP spokesman, Ayhan Bilgen, twitted that the party would boycott the discussion: “We will not use our votes for this illegitimate reform, while our Members of Parliament are being unjustly prevented from doing their duty”. The key points of this reform were approved on the 13th, but the Members came to blows. On the 15th, the HDP Member Garo Paylan was suspended for three days after a speech — constantly interrupted by the AKP Members — in which he criticised the proposed changes and made references to “four communities driven from their lands in great massacre and genocides”, referring to Armenians, Assyrians Greeks and Jews. The constitutional alterations were finally passed on the 21st by 339 votes out of 550. The CHP announced it would campaign against.
If the January decrees represent a foretaste of the future legislation, there is cause for concern. According to an open letter by the HDP’s Vice co-President and Head of international relations, Hışyar Özsoy, dated the 12th, they ordered the sacking of 8,398 new civil servants and 649 university lecturers and the banning of 83 new civil society organisations. Indeed, even more seriously, in accordance with these decrees, suppliers of access to internet will have to inform the police about personal information about their clients without the need of any court warrant. Above all, the government could strip of their Turkish nationality anyone who is abroad, about whom enquiries are being made regarding crimes of a constitutional character, and who fails for three months to obey a summons from a Public Prosecutor to return to Turkey!
Purges and repression seem to have no effect in reducing the violence into which the country is plunging. To begin with the first terrorist attack claimed by ISIS in Turkey, and described as a revenge for Turkish military operations in Syria: on New Years Eve a gunman opened fire in the Reina, an Istanbul night club, killing 39 people, two thirds of them foreigners, before fleeing. After an unprecedented man hunt, the police only captured the alleged guilty man, said to be of Uzbek origin, on the 17th in a flat in the European quarter of Istanbul, Esenyurt.
On the 3rd, the HPG (Popular Defence Forces, the military wing of the PKK) published the statistics of its actions for 2016. According to this report, it has killed 3,404 police or soldiers, including 38 senior officers, and wounded 1,334, shot down one F-16 fighter and 3 helicopters and destroyed 166 armoured vehicles, including 8 tanks. The HPG give their casualties at 35 fighters killed in action, including 13 in Sinjar (Shingal). On the 5th a policeman and a member of the court staff were killed at Izmir by the explosion of a booby-trapped car after fighting with some Kurdish militants. The attack was claimed by the TAK on the 11th. On the 10th the governor of Diyarbekir announced two new curfews on 10 villages in the Lice district. On the 16th four police were killed and 9 wounded by the explosion of a bomb triggered off by the passage of their vehicle near the Dicle University campus in Diyarbekir. Throughout the month the Turkish Air Force continued its air strikes at the PKK positions in Iraqi Kurdistan: on the evening of 6th at Qandil at 10 pm, on the 13th in the night at the district of Amêdî, destroying several houses of the village of Seferî, on the 18th at about 8 pm at Qandil again and finally on the 24th.
On 4th of November 2016, 12 Kurdish M.P.s of the HDP, including its two co-Presidents Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yuksekdağ were arrested on suspicion of “links with the PKK”. Placed in solitary confinement in the “type F” high security prison of Edirne, they were obliged to give evidence in hearings on their cases at a distance, by teleconference, which completely infringed their rights of defence.
Selahattin Demirtaş also declared he had been refused medical treatment despite his state of health (he had to be taken to hospital for examination on 10th December after a heart attack). Nearly 120 enquiries and trials have been initiated against Demirtaş in about twenty different towns. Amongst these: at Istanbul’s 34th Primary Penal Court, where he is charged with “inciting hatred and hostility”, a charge based on his speech at an election rally in Istanbul on 7th June 2015. (Demirtaş had criticised a newspaper article); at the 2nd Ankara Criminal Court of First Instance, a charge of “insulting the Turkish nation, the Turkish Republic and the State institution”, all this based on a speech made on the Kurdish Television channel Med Nuçe TV on 10th October 2015; at Ankara’s 10th Criminal Court of First Instance for “crime” and “insulting Süleyman Soylu” (Mr. Soylu was then Vice-President of the AKP) for having stated on 18 May 2015 that a team of 3,600 people managed by Soylu “were carrying out simulations and electoral fraud so as to keep HDP below the threshold for national elections”.
There follow extracts from several statements made during hearings or else sent by post (published by the HDP representative in Europe or translated by volunteers of the Kedistan website).
Figen Yüksekdağ, a statement dated 6th Nov: “Despite all their efforts, they cannot weaken our hope or break our resistance. Be it (…) in prison or not, the HDP and ourselves are still the only solution for Turkey, for freedom and democracy. And that is why they are so afraid of us (…)”.
Selahattin Demirtaş, a statement of 8th Nov: “The fact that we have been taken as hostage, both I and our Members of Parliament, following what seems like a civilian coup d’état, is not only an attack on us as individuals. It is a new step taken by those who, step by step, have set up various plots to consolidate the reign by just one man (…)”.
Demirtaş challenged the manner by which the Parliamentary immunity of the HDP Members had been lifted, describing it as illegal, which also makes his detention illegal. The immunities should have been lifted by the Parliamentary commission created for that end, after reading the charges against the Members against whom the measure was proposed and giving them the possibility to defend themselves. The immunity was lifted globally, without considering the cases concerned and without any defence. Demirtaş also pointed to the choice and timing of the arrests — six months after lifting the immunity. Why so late? It was to prepare public opinion for the moment when the project of constitutional change would be presented…
On 17th January the Prosecutors of the Adana Province Second Criminal Court demanded 142 years imprisonment for Demirtaş and 83 for Figen Yuksekdağ. On the 18th the Diyarbekir Court approved the charges prepared by the Public Prosecutors Office and demanded 1 to 4 years imprisonment for Demirtaş for “insulting President Erdoğan” and “propaganda in favour of the PKK” during a televised appearance on September 2015. Seeing the number of cases opened against him, they were spoilt for choice… It was about this charge that the HDP co-President stated on 6th January that he was neither a leader, member, spokesman or sympathiser of the PKK, but the co-President of HDP. He went on to add, to make things perfectly clear: “I criticise all violent and warlike methods and I am opposed to all warlike politics. (…) Although the statements that ended the peace process were made by Government leaders I am made responsible for PKK attacks. The HDP has no responsibility for the blood bath, Those who took the political decision were the President and the Prime Minister”.