The diplomatic dead end continues in in Syria, which is still a field of conflict between the main regional and world powers. On 1st March Russia and China used their veto to block sanctions aimed at the regime proposed by the Western powers following a report by UNO and the OBCW (Organisation for banning Chemical Weapons) implicating the Syrian Government in three attacks using chlorine, which it denied, while Russia challenged its conclusions. On the 3rd the regime’s army recovered Palmyra from ISIS for the second time. Then a double suicide attack in Damascus, claimed by Ahrar al-Shams (the former name of the Syrian branch of al-Qaida) caused 76 deaths and on Wednesday 15th another caused 31 deaths. From the 19th to 21st there were violent clashes between the Syrian Army and rebels in Jubar and al-Qabun, a working class outer suburb of the Syrian capital.
Another source of tension persists: between Turkey and the US, regarding the PYD, since the US consider the Syrian Kurdish party, the principal component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as their most effective ally against ISIS, whereas the Turks consider it an offshoot of the PKK and thus as such a “terrorist group” itself, whose destruction is an obsession of the Turkish President Erdoğan. On the 1st, the daily paper Yeni Safak, close to the government, suggested that Turkey might forbid the use by the US of its Incirlik air base if it continues to cooperate with the PYD in its offensive against the ISIS “capital” of Raqqa. Seeing this base’s importance, since it brings Syria within the range of the coalition’s bombers, the Pentagon has tried playing both ways, while reassuring its Turkish ally that the final offensive would be carried out by the Arab units of the SDF, it also reinforced the SDF with several hundred Marines and an artillery battery (light M77, 155 mm shells) with a 30 km range. Meanwhile the SDF have continued their advance, taking the Tabqa military airport on the 26th, then the Euphrates dam, 45 km West of Raqqa. Taking this airport could, indeed, make the coalition less dependent on Incirlik, since it could operate as a close up base and the arrival point for further troops and equipment. On the same day the SDF announced being only 10 km from Raqqa. The Pentagon also announced that it would be deploying further ground troops to hold the region once Raqqa was taken and until it was handed over to a local administration. The following day, Salih Muslim, the PYD’s co-president, declared that after taking Raqqa its inhabitants could decide whether to join the decentralised system of Rojava’s “confederal democracy”. On the 13th Ewwas Eli, the PYD’s head of international relations at Kobanê, stated in turn that the issue was one of establishing an autonomous democratic administration at Manbij, with a local Council composed of Arabs, Kurds and Turcomen. This would reproduce in a more important town the situation existing at Tell Abyad, and above all in Manbij, which has been held, since being recovered from ISIS, by a military Council affiliated to the SDF — much to Turkey’s exasperation.
After the (quite difficult) capture of al-Bab by Turkish troops at the end of March, President Erdoğan had stated that the next objective would be Manbij, because of its strategic stopping position between Turkey and Raqqa, but also as it makes passage from Rojava to Aleppo possible. The Turkish army staff had even come up against the YPG to the East of al-Bab, taking two villages and threatening Manbij. To avoid a direct conflict the city’s Military Council chose an objective alliance with the Syian Army by indicating it had reached a compromise agreement, with Russian mediation, with the Syrian government whereby it ceded some towns between Manbij and al-Bab to the Damascus regime’s Border Guards. Indeed, this is the first time since the beginning of the civil war that the Damascus Army has been in contact with Rojava. Some Kurdish leaders have even stated that the opening of a corridor between the regions held by the regime and Rojava could have a positive impact on both sides since they are economically complementary, Rojava being rich in agriculture and oil while regime-held zones are more industrially developed. However, in the short term the interest is essentially military. On the 3rd, Serguey Rudskoy, head of the Russian Department of principal operations stated that Syrian troops had been deployed in areas held by the SDF Southwest of Manbij. Nevertheless, fighting is continuing between rebels backed by Turkey and the YPG near Afrin, and YPG thwarted on Friday a Turkish attack in the Afrîn area. The 5th the Manbij Military Council declared that the town and its surrounding rural areas were under the protection of the US-led coalition, which had increased its military presence, and denied any transfer of territory to the Damascus government: “The agreement reached between the Russians and ourselves, the Manbij Military council, only covers the border line between the Afrin region and the Turkish Euphrates Shield operation” stated Manbij Military council general command (ARA News). On the 6th the Pentagon announced it had reinforced its forces in Manbij “for dissuasive purposes”, while the town’s Military council pointed out it had given ten villages to the Syrian Army. The director of Centre for Human Rights in Syria, Rami Abdel Rahman, described this as a fictional operation, the Manbij fighters having simply hoisted the Syrian flag... All these contradictory statements (as well as those of the YPG regarding the setting up of a Russian military base in Rojava, which the latter denied) seem aimed a making even more complex for Turkish Air Force evaluating the incurred risks if they go on advancing. Moreover there were clashes on the 8th between rebel forces backed by the Turkish Army and the Syrian border guards near villages from which the SDF recently left …
The Turkish Army also opened fire on SDF forces with artillery: on the 13th, North of Aleppo, allegedly retaliating against an attack on the rebels they support in the Afrin region, and on the 22nd, in Afrin area, characterising it as reprisals for the killing of a Turkish soldier by a sniper shot from Rojava — in connection with which the Russian chargé d’affaires in Ankara was summoned by the Turkish government as the Russians are supposedly the guarantors of the ceasefire in the area...
While Manbij thus found itself in the first fortnight of the month the focal point of the tensions between Turkey, Russia and the US, the second fortnight was mainly characterised by the strengthening of the SDF and their supporters. On the 18th, an US Defence Department official stated to AFP (but off the record!) that the Pentagon was going to send 1,000 further troops to support Rojava, perhaps some extra artillery and HIMARS rocket launchers. On the 29th, Russia sent Turkey a reminder calling on it to cease advancing its troops carrying out its Euphrates Shield operation and deploying troops in the Afrin region, hereby actually blocking any Turkish advance. On the 21st the YPG spokesman, Redur Xelil, told Reuters that their forces would be increased to 100,000 by the end of 2017. On the 22nd the SDF announced the arrival of US troops who would be deployed West of Raqqa, in preparation for the attack on Tabqa. The Trump administration, far from giving way to Turkish demands, has increased its support of the SDF, and American soldiers even deployed at Manbij, under the protection of their own flag...
Faced with this unfavourable situation, the Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yıldırım, announced on Wednesday 29th that Turkey was ending the Euphrates Shield operation, which he described as “victorious”, while suggesting other cross-border operations could be initiated under other names. Although speaking of “victory”, Turkey seems to have concluded that any further advances, that would need to confront Russians, Syrian and Americans, were impossible at present, and that, since the latter had decided not to include Turkey in their operation against Raqqa, it were better to abandon (for the moment) these operations.
Regarding the ongoing international negotiations, Russia continues to support the inclusion of the Kurdish PYD in the Geneva discussions, trying to argue this point with Turkey while recommending negotiations to bring closer the views of the PYD and the Kurdish National Council (KNC). Nevertheless, discussions, be they in Geneva or Astana, held in parallel and concerned with the humanitarian issues, have hardly progressed so far... The opposition at first announced its boycott because of the continuing Russian air strikes on rebel-held areas – and because the Syrian Army did not observe the cease fire, then finally agreed to take part. However, at the end of the month, the head of the opposition delegation, , Nasr al-Hariri, complained that the regime had refused any discussion on the political transition… For its part, the KNC severely criticised the preparatory document prepared by Staffan de Mistura, which did not even mention the Kurdish question nor Kurdish rights in Syria, or even the great ethnic diversity of the country, limiting itself to mentioning “cultural diversity”!
The latent tensions that have lasted several months now between the Regional Government of Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG) and the administration of Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) dominated by the PYD, a party belonging to the PKK sphere, resulted on the 3rd March in armed clashes, quickly stopped, in the Sinjar region of Iraq. This region, the majority of whose inhabitant are Yezidi Kurds, is one of those disputed between Baghdad and Erbil, and is strategically situated on the Iraqi-Syrian border. The clashes took place between Syrian Kurdish Peshmergas (Rojava Peshmergas) or ”Roj Force” and the “Sinjar Resistance Units” (YBŞ). The YBŞ is affiliated to the PKK and thus close to the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Unity Party PYD, whereas the “Roj Peshmergas” are essentially an offshoot of the KDP Peshmergas of the KRG and trained by the Zerevanî (KDP’s military police) are consequently affiliated to the Syrian KNC (or ENKS), the PYD’s rival.
According to local media, the conflict began on Friday 3rd at about 7.00 am near the village of Kana Sor, after the Roj Force had deployed a new regiment on the Iraqi side of its Rojava border. In the Sinune district, where the YBŞ unit was stationed. The “Roj Force” tried to position itself on a road linking the YBŞ unit with the PKK on the Syrian side of the border. Consequently the YBŞ denied them passage. According to the Kurdish TV Channel Rûdaw, 7 YBŞ fighters were killed. Both sides accused the other of opening fire first. However the clashes stopped rapidly and both sides began discussions to “normalise the situation”.
This fighting sent a shock wave throughout the region. The next day Kosrat Rasul, a PUK leader and Vice-President of the Kurdistan Region, called for an end to the tension between the YBŞ and the Roj Force in Sinjar, as did a number of other Kurdish leaders. He warned against any new birakûjî (fratricidal war) while a demonstration was organised in Erbil to protest against these conflicts, 30 of the demonstrators being arrested by the Asayish (police) including a journalist of Roj News, Siware Mahmoud. On the 5th, the Kurdistan region’s Presidency declared it had given orders “to bring the situation under control”, recalling that “only the KRG is legally entitled to manage the territory of the Kurdistan Region” and that “no other party may prevent the movements of the Peshmergas”. On the 6th, the KRG announced that it was going to increase the size of the Roj Force to 10,000. On the same day a PKK spokesman stated that its fighters in Sinjar were those that had fought against ISIS from the beginning and that there was no question of their withdrawing “until the residents were able to protect themselves”, demanding on the contrary the withdrawal of the Roj Force, whose deployment there “the Yezidis are opposed”. This demand was repeated on the 13th from Qandil by the KCK co-President, Cemil Bayik. In reply, the KRG approached other Yezidi forces, like Haider Shesho’s Ezidkhan, with whom relations had sometimes been tense in the past, whose integration with the KRG’s Peshmergas was started on the same day. On the 14th the KRG’s Prime Minister, Nechirvan Bazarni, following a meeting in Dohuk with leaders of the Yezidi community, including the Mir (“Prince”) Tahsin Beg, stated that he expected expected the members of the PKK to act in a “reasonable manner” and to leave Sinjar as their presence was preventing the reconstruction of the region. New acts of violence broke out in Sinjar on the same day when the KDP police opened fire on demonstrators trying to reach the Roj Force’s lines to protest against their presence, killing a woman and injuring 15 people, including 2 journalists. The next day the KDP deployed a hundred more Peshmergas round the Qandil region, a PKK stronghold. Tension increased still further when the casualties increased with the death on the 23rd in an Hassaké hospital in Rojava of one of the journalists wounded on the 3rd, Tuba Akyılmaz (whose pen-name was Nujyan Erhan).
These clashes provoked numerous expressions of concern. Concerned by the use of assault rifles which Germany had been supplying to the KRG for fighting ISIS, and that were recognised in the “Roj Force” videos, the Federal German authorities asked the KRG on the 9th not to use them for inter-Kurdish conflict. They repeated this concern on the 30th at a meeting with the Speaker of the Kurdish Parliament, Yusuf Mohammed Sadiq, who was visiting Germany. Several Kurdish parties, including Gorran and the Islamic parties, described the situation as “very dangerous” and called for negotiations to avoid a civil war. The spokesman of the Turkish HDP, Osman Baydemir, appealed on the Kurdish TV channel NRT to the parties present in Sinjar to put an end to the tension in the district. These inter-Kurdish tensions indeed reflect regional tensions: the Roj News press agency, close to the PKK, announced on the 18th that the Head of the Turkish Intelligence Services (MIT), Hakan Fidan, had met KDP leaders in Dohuk and the Sinjar, and on the 20th, the Turkish news agency Anatolia announced that the Iraqi Turcoman Parties had demanded the immediate withdrawal of the PKK from the Sinjar and the Mosul region… On the 19th the human rights defence organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) had in a communiqué to ARA News called on both the Kurdish administrations, the PYD’s in Rojava and the one in Iraqi Kurdistan to free the prisoners arbitrarily arrested after these clashes. Indeed tensions have raised after the fight in both Kurdish regions. On the 3rd, the day of the clashes, the KNC accused a group of young Kurds, Ciwanên Şoreşger, of having set fire to the Qamishlo offices of the Yekiti Party, one of its members. Another of this party’s offices was also burnt down out at Dresye, in Hassakeh Province. The Rojava police announced they had arrested two suspects and that they would protect the KNC premises, but on the 9th some pro-PYD youth attacked the Party for Democratic and Progressive Union at Derbasiyeh and on the 13th according to a leader of the Qamishlo branch of Yekitî, more than 40 KNC supporters have been arrested in Rojava. The KNC also accused PYD supporters of having burnt its offices at Amoude. On the 16th the PYD authorities closed the ENKS offices at Qamishlo, arguing that this committee, which brings together about twelve parties, had not obtained the authorisation to operate. The law that requires such authorisation, established in 2014, had never before been applied… On the 27th the official responsible for international relations of Rojava’s Cezireh Canton, Abdulkarim Omer, accused on ARA News the KRG of placing the Syria’s Kurdish region under an embargo, at Turkey’s request, by preventing Western diplomats and journalists wishing to cover the Raqqa operations from entering Rojava, and inversely preventing Rojava leaders from entering Bashur (the KRG Region).
The Iraqis have continued during this month their operations in West Mosul. Since the Peshmergas have completed their part, they are not taking part, even though they are still contributing to the encirclement of ISIS from the North. The media do not mention many civilian losses in the fighting, but it can be feared that we will later find that there were many victims... In the course of five months, 255,000 people have already been displaced, 100,000 of them since the launching of the attack on West Mosul on February 19. However, it is thought that there are still 800,000 inhabitants trapped in the battle zones. On 1st March the Iraqi armoured division announced that it was now positioned 1 km outside from the “Syrian Gate”, thus totally isolating the city and preventing the Jihadists fleeing towards Tell Afar, which they still hold 60 km to the West. On the 3rd an officer announced the “cleansing” of the Wadi Hajjar quarter, Northwest of the International Airport. On the 7th Iraqi troops, after having advanced along the Tigris from the Hurriya bridge, taken the day before, took the very symbolic Headquarters of Mosul Province (Ninawa) and the archeological museum, plundered by the jihadists in 2014. According to US sources dated the 8th, the analysis of ISIS’s internal communications reveal that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would have left Mosul to hide in some villages of the Iraqi desert, constantly changing his location. On the 13th, a Major of the anti-terrorist forces announced that over a third of the city’s Western quarters had been recovered. The station was taken on the 14th but the Iraqi troops, , confronted to ISIS’s snipers and mortar fire, were continuing to advance very slowly through the old city. On the 15th the fighting approached the al-Nuri Mosque in the old town (where Baghdadi had proclaimed himself Caliph) and close to the Iron Bridge, which links the old city with East Mosul, taken on the 15th. At this point the government forces held 3 of the city’s 5 bridges. On the 18th, thousands of civilians fled the city as the fighting approached the old town. On the 22nd, ISIS shelled the quarters recently retaken by the Iraqi Army, killing at least 5 civilians and wounding 20 others, while the fighting continued round the Al-Nuri Museum. On the 24th the Iraqis slowed and then stopped their operations to avoid civilian losses and announced that henceforth they would avoid air strikes, one of which had caused dozens of deaths and wounded in the al-Jadidah quarter, when some of the bombed buildings collapsed — perhaps after the explosion of a booby-trapped vehicle. On the 25th the Ministry of migration and Displaced People declared that the battle had displaced 200,000 people. According to the KRG the 4 camps set up in Kurdistan to shelter them were full. On the 29th the fighting continued round the al-Nuri Mosque.
Attention has also turned towards Kirkuk, a city and province claimed by both the Kurds and the central government and where various events have been sources of tension throughout the country: on the one hand the PUK, the Kurdish party predominant in Kirkuk, dissatisfied with the oil agreement negotiated between Baghdad and Erbil, took control of the city oil installations for a while, and on the other hand Kirkouk Provincial council’s decision to raise the Kurdish flag alongside the Iraqi flag over all official buildings aroused controversy all over Iraq and beyond...
On 2nd March, 15 km West of Kirkuk, the PUK took control of the North Oil Company premises, a Iraqi State company, threatening a interruption of the exporting of oil from Kirkuk to Ceyhan if the central government failed to accede to their demand for the building of a local refinery. Aso Mamand, member of the Political Committee of the PUK declared that it was “unjust that Kirkuk oil be sent [to be treated] to other provinces while [this province] is suffering from a crisis, accusing the Kurdistan Regional Government (dominated by the KDP) of exploiting the inhabitants of Kirkuk. Safîn Dîzayî (KDP), the KRG’s spokesman, declared on the 4th that this taking of control of the oil wells was “an irresponsible action”. On the 8th the PUK leader UPK Kosrat Rassul announced that his party had reached an agreement with the Baghdad Government: the latter would increase the capacity of the Kirkuk refinery from 10,000 barrels per day to 50,000 by the end of the year. A first new unit of 10,000 had already been made operational at the end of February. The petrol produced in Kirkuk will supply the regions controlled by the PUK. The oil produced at Kirkuk, already a source of conflict between Baghdad and Erbil thus seems to arouse inter-Kurdish tensions as well.
On the 12th, after a visit to Kirkuk by Masud Barzani and several KDP leaders, peshmergas from this party were deployed near the city as well as at Dibaga, in Makhmour district. Although the Province’s Kurdish police have again arrested suspected ISIS members, this deployment seems more a sequel to the recent clashes with the PKK in Sinjar: according to the ANF Press agency, close to that party, KDP Peshmergas were deployed near the Makhmour refugee camp that is host to many PKK refugees.
However, if there were many mentions about Kirkuk in the media this month, this was more because of two decisions taken on the 16th by the Province’s governor, Nejmeddin Karim. The first, based on article 4 of the Iraqi Constitution that authorises each province to decide its official languages, imposes the use of Kurdish together with Arabic in all the Province’s official publications. The second specifies that the Kurdish flag shall be flown alongside the Iraqi flag on all of the Province’s official buildings. This second decision has provoked many reactions: on the 18th the Arab Al-Mustaqillun (Indépendants) block in the Baghdad Parliament criticised it. On the 19th The Turkish Foreign Affairs Ministry described it as unilateral, considering that it risked “harming the efforts to build stability and consensus in Iraq”. On the 21st the UN Aid Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) published a statement expressing its “concern”, stating that according to the Iraqi Constitution only the Iraqi flag should fly in Provinces administered by the Central Government. It was for the Newroz Festival, on the 21st, that the Kurdish flag was first officially raised alongside the Iraqi flag on the Kirkuk citadel. On the 28th, during a session of the Provincial Council boycotted by some of the Arab and Turcoman representatives, the Council endorsed the Govermor’s decision by 26 votes out of 40. The next day the Turcomen marched through the city in protest and the Iraqi Vice-President, Osama Al-Nujaifi, spoke of a “violation of national unity”.
Since ISIS’s irruption into Northern Iraq and the ensuing disasters for the region’s minorities, the issues of the latters’ security and future status has never ceased to be discussed. They have re-appeared with a common publication on the 5th by the Supreme Yezidi Council, the “Turcoman Salvation” Foundation and the Assyrian al-Rafidayn (“Two rivers”) organisation, proposing the creation of a semi-autonomous region in line with the 2005 Constitution that would cover the Sinjar, the Tell Afar region and the Nineveh plain.
Regarding the internal political situation in the Kurdistan Region, President Masud Barzani declared on the 2nd to the French daily Le Monde that the parliamentary elections would take place in September at the same time as the Presidential elections, and that, in conformity with the law, he would not be a candidate for another term of office. His last term, originally for 4 years, had been extended by a further 2 years by an agreement between the KDP and the PUK on July 2013, then he had remained in office in August 2015 because of the military situation resulting from ISIS’s invasion in June 2014. However a few days later, on the 7th, the head of the High Electoral Commission, Jutyar Adil, declared that the elections should be held by 11 November 2017 at the latest, the date of expiration of the present Parliament term, the 6th September being the last date on which the President could officially ask the Commission to hold the elections. The KRG has, in any case, announced it had assigned the preliminary budget needed for holding them, and on the 25th, the KRG Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, confirmed in an interview that a referendum on the self-determination of Iraqi Kurdistan would indeed be held this year. However the legislative context for the organisation of these different elections has yet to be specified. Indeed, on the 26th, the spokesman for the Kurdistan Region Independent Commission for Elections and the Referendum, Shirwan Zrar, stated on the Kurdish TV channel NRT that a referendum on the Region`s independence could not take place without a decision of the Kurdish Parliament. Consequently the latter would have to be re-activated to pass a law regarding the referendum.
On the economic level, the daily situation remains extremely difficult for the population. People continue to struggle against wage reductions and delays in paying them, though some sign of hope are starting to appear. After two disastrous years, the tourist sector is gradually recovering, with about 40,000 arrivals in March. One of the unexpected consequences of the crisis, which can be considered positive in the long term as well, is an increase in agricultural production. On the 31st, the Finance Minister described the economic perspectives for 2017 as “better”, with an economy that could start creating employment, making the point that the KRG envisaged a plan to support this revival by injecting some liquidity on the market to attenuate the lack of credit worsened by the financial crisis.
On the 2nd March the HDP, Turkey’s “pro-Kurdish” party, launched its campaign to vote NO in the referendum due on 16 April to decide whether President Erdoğan should receive the “hyper-Presidential” powers he has wanted for so long. With both its co-Presidents, a dozen of its M.P.s and 85 Mayors and hundred of local councillors in prison, the opposition party is approaching this campaign under conditions that are so unfavourable that it leads to challenge the democratic nature of the referendum itself. In view of the pressures that are daily brought to bear on those supporting the NO, comparing them with terrorists, one has to admire the courage of the hundreds of people who went out on the streets of Istanbul to support this campaign. It should be recalled that since the start of the witch hunt campaign launched in the wake of the failed coup d’état of last July, over 20 people stigmatised for simply expressing opposition to Erdoğan’s war against the Kurds have been driven to suicide. Taking just one example, Mehmet Fatih Traş, a researcher in economics at Çukurova University in Adama, who threw himself from the 7th floor of a building in Mersin. Denounced as a terrorist by a colleague, sacked because of his membership of HDP and for having signed the “University Petition for Peace” of 10th January 2016, he was banned from any university nationally.
If the media have mentioned less arrests this month, it is because the majority of opposition members are already in jail… However the indictments and sentences for “membership of a terrorist organisation” or for “propaganda for a terrorist organisation” have been numerous. Leyla Zana, a HDP Member of parliament for Ağrı and a well-known defender of Human Rights is facing 20 years jail for “links with the PKK”. On the 7th, a Turkish interpreter at the American Consulate in Adana, Hamza Ulucay, was jailed on suspicion of links with the PKK and Gülen! Between the 16th and the 18th, 740 people were jailed in 36 simultaneous police operations on suspicion of “links with the PKK”. On the 18th Aydın Atar, general manager of the Kurdish daily Azadiya Welat was sentenced to 9 years imprisonment for “propaganda for a terrorist organisation” and “incitement to violence” without, according to his lawyer, the slightest evidence being presented in court to support threes accusations. On the 26th the Kurdish painter Zehra Doğan, member of the women’s press agency Jinha, was accused of “membership of an illegal organisation” and sentenced to 2 years and six months for — a painting depicting the destruction carried out by the Turkish Army in the Kurdish town of Nusaybîn! On the 28th the co-President of the BDP, Kamuran Yuksek, at present in Europe, received in absentia a sentence of 8 years and 9 months for “membership of a terrorist organisation” without the court, that took its decision in minutes, hearing a single witness. Finally on the 29th in Diyarbekir, 111 people were sentenced in the case against the KCK to a toral of over 1,000 years in prison on the same grounds: Kemal Aktaş, Bayram Altun, Mehmet Taş, Serdar Kızılkaya, Hüseyin Yılmaz, Salih Akdoğan, Turan Genç, Çimen Işık, Zühre Bozacı, Mehmet Selim, Bayram Altun, Herdem Kızılkaya, Lütfü Dağ et Ahmet Birsin received 21 years; the co-mayor of Mardin (stripped of office) Ahmet Türk, was sentenced to one year and three months, but his sentence was suspended because of his health and age. The court also sentenced some co-mayors of municipalities of the metropolitan city of Diyarbekir: Fırat Anlı received in absentia six years and three months and the co-President of the Congress for a Democratic Society (DTK), Hatip Dicle, received nine years. 43 others accused were found not guilty.
Furthermore, the HDP accused the government of subjecting it to an all-out media embargo: from the 1st to the 22nd of the month, the party received no time on any TRT channel nor was it invited to any of the 17 Turkish channels covering the referendum, whereas the President and his Prime Minister held meetings every day that were systematically broadcast (the CHP leader, Kemal Kilicdaroğlu, who was also campaigning for a NO vote was also broadcast live). A decree opportunely suppressed the power of the High Electoral Council to impose fines on private channels that failed to observe equal speech regulations. The HDP also reported measures taken to prevent expression of the citizens’ will — in the 12th it was announced that following demands filed by the police or gendarmerie, the polling stations in several villages known to be pro-HDP would be moved to pro-government korucu villages — leading to fears of fraud…
On the 27th, the 1.4 million Turkish voters living in Germany began voting at the consulates. The issue of the campaign abroad provoked a serious deterioration in Turkish relations with several European countries, allowing Erdoğan to pose as usual as the defender of the country, as is his wont to benefit from the nationalist feeling of part of the electorate...
In Germany relations with Turkey were already tense following the arrest on 14 February of Deniz Yücel, the correspondent of Die Welt. Following this arrest the Turkish Ambassador was summoned at the beginning of this month by the German Foreign Minister – in reply to which the Turkish President declared on the 3rd that the journalist was a foreign agent and a member of the PKK! The German authorities then forbade, for reasons of safety, several AKP election meetings in its territory, including one in Hamburg where Mesut Çavuşoğlu, the Turkish Foreign Minister, was due to speak. Erdoğan then accused these measures of being “Nazi practices”, which hardly reduced tension. Chancellor Angela Merkel rejected these remarks saying she could not “seriously comment” on them. On the 11th Mr. Çavuşoğlu decided to ignore a ban by the Dutch Government “to protect public order” of his taking part in a pro-Erdoğan meeting in the Low Countries. His plane was forbidden to land and had to do a U-turn while the Turkish Minister for the Family was refused land entry to Holland from Germany. On the 12th the Rotterdam riot police dispersed a pro-Erdoğan demonstration in front of the Turkish consulate. The next day the Turkish President made new accusations of “Nazi practices”, this time against the Dutch government. The Dutch chargé d’affaires in Ankara was summoned by the Turkish Foreign Office and the Ambassador, who was not in Turkey at the time forbidden to return. While France authorised Mr. Çavuşoğlu to hold a meeting in Metz, four other pro-AKP election meeting were banned in Austria and Switzerland. On the 15th Mr. Çavuşoğlu threatened to put an end to the agreement reached about migrants. The Turkish Government was also much offended by the authorisation given in Frankfort for an anti-Erdoğan demonstration by 30,000 Kurds on the 18th, where the demonstrators marched for a NO to the referendum with “symbols and slogans of the terrorist and separatist group [the PKK]”. The German Ambassador was summoned at Ankara the next day.
On the 21st the CDU’s Vice-President (Angela Merkel’s own party) who is also Prime Minister of the Land of Hesse, which includes Frankfort, stated that Erdoğan “had crossed a red line” by comparing the German Government to the Nazis, that he was no longer welcome in Germany, and that the visit he wished to make before the referendum would raise security problems: “This is enough. Someone who insults us in this manner cannot expect us to deploy thousands of police to protect him”.
In parallel, two reports damning for the Turkish government were issued by international bodies. On the 10th, the United Nations published a report condemning the “serious abuses” by the Turkish Army during operations against the Kurdish guerrilla. Containing satellite photos that show an unprecedented level of destruction, the document assesses at between 355,000 and 500,000 the number of people displaced in the 30 towns to which the UNO investigators were never able to gain access, despite repeated requests throughout the year. UNO calls for the trial of those guilty of hundreds of extrajudicial executions, into which the Turkish Government has not carried out any credible enquiry. As might be expected, Turkey condemned the report as “partial”. On the 20th, the Human Rights defence organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report criticising the repression of the Kurdish opposition (HYPERLINK "https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/03/20/turkey-crackdown-kurdish-opposition"https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/03/20/turkey-crackdown-kurdish-opposition). Hugh Williamson, HRW director for Europe and Central Asia particularly stated: “It is extremely harmful for democracy in Turkey that the government is locking up leaders and elected representatives of an opposition party that received five million votes in the last elections. The fact that this repression is taking place during a national debate vital for the country’s future is doubly worrying”.
Military operations have continued throughout this month. Turkish forces have launched one of the biggest operations for years in the Lice region (Diyarbekir Province), involving 7,000 gendarmes, 600 members of the Special Forces, dozens of tanks and 17 helicopters. Curfews have been imposed on 18 villages. On the 8th the Turkish Air Force reported it had carried out night raids on Iraqi Kurdistan, hitting caves used by the PKK in the region of Zab and Avasin-Basyan. On the 15th, 2 soldiers were killed while checking for mines on the Mardin-Diyarbakir road by a bomb set off by Kurdish rebels as their vehicle passed by. On the 20th 2 others were killed in an operation in the Lice district. According to the same source 6 Kurdish activists were also killed. On the 24th , 25th and 29th the Turkish Air Force announced further strikes at the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan and also, on the last date, in Turkish Kurdistan near Yuksekova and Cukurca, in Hakkari and Diyarbekir provinces. On the same day a Kurdish activist died when a bomb he was transporting exploded prematurely in his vehicle, wounding another passenger.