As for the constitutional referendum, Mr Erdoğan had to resort to extreme means to be able to proclaim victory: with 51.37% against 48.63% for the "No", the victory of the "Yes" was described as being a minima by the French channel France Info. The “pro-Kurdish” party HDP immediately challenged these figures and accused the government of fraud. First, the consultation was held in totally anti-democratic conditions, with supporters of the “No” being assimilated to terrorists and constantly intimidated, and some of them were imprisoned long before the start of the campaign: for instance the HDP entered the campaign with nearly 5,000 of its executives imprisoned, including 85 mayors and 13 parliamentarians, and had virtually no access to the media – unlike the AKP which largely benefited from the State's resources... Ziya Pir, HDP M.P. for Diyarbakir, testified that the police systematically removed posters calling for the “No”; Mithat Sancar, the HDP Vice-President, declared that some voters had complained that the secrecy of the vote had not been respected and that many members of the HDP had been refused as scrutineers or deputy returning officers... But above all, the High Electoral Commission (YSK) decided at the last moment to consider valid all ballots that had not received the stamp of a polling station, actually a massive fraud, especially since they were then stamped so that no one could distinguish them from legitimate ballots... “Whether the official announcement is “Yes” or “No”, said the HDP spokesman Osman Baydemir, “we will contest 2/3 of the ballots. Our data indicate a manipulation of 3-4% of the ballots – that is to say three million, [a figure] sufficient to reverse the outcome of the vote”.
Thousands of “No” supporters have taken to the streets in Istanbul and other cities, and the HDP as well as the CHP (kemalists) announced that they would not recognize the results and intended to bring up an annulment appeal. The president of the Turkish Bar Associations described the YSK's decision of accepting uncontrolled ballots as a “violation of the electoral law”, but the latter nonetheless rejected the appeals ... The CHP vice-president, Bülent Tezcan, Vice-President of the CHP party, declared that he envisaged an appeal to the Turkish Constitutional Court or the European Court for Human Rights. The European Organization for Security and Cooperation published a report calling to question the conditions under which the referendum took place (summarized in the next article), which the European Council described as “inequitable”.
The Turkish President retorted by ordering the European observers to “keep to their place”. The Constitutional changes adopted now allow him to dismiss Parliament at will and declare a state of emergency unilaterally, to appoint half of the principal judges, all the high ranking civil servants, police chiefs and university Vice-Chancellors… Kati Piri, the MEP (Member of the European Parliament) responsible for relations with Ankara stated on the 26th that carrying out these changes would close any possibility of Turkey’s joining the European Union. Similarly Johannes Hahn, the Commissioner responsible for dealing with applications for membership, had asked the summit of EU Foreign Ministers at Malta to envisage an end to discussions on this issue… Piri suggested it would be better to put emphasis onto the progress to the Customs Union to preserve a means of exerting pressure and so save some democracy in Turkey.
The referendum campaign has not stopped the clashes taking place between the Turkish Army and the PKK. On the 5th the Turkish Air Force bombed Qandil Mountain in Iraqi Kurdistan, specially targeting a cemetery of their fighters. The next day the Governor of Hakkari Province announced that Turkish planes had bombed a mountain area close to Cukurca, killing 8 PKK fighters who had attacked a Turkish military police station, wounding one soldier. On the same day the pro-government daily Yeni Safak announced a future “Tigris Shield” land operation against the PKK in Sinjar would soon be launched from the Bashiqa base to cut communications between Sinjar and Qandil areas and the North, as well as between the PKK and the PYD in Syria (Rojava). In response to this, Agid Jivyan, the commander of the HPG (Hêzên Parastina Gel, People’s Protection Forces) in Sinjar declared that the PKK was ready to meet any Turkish attack, and on the 10th, Cemil Bayik, a PKK leader again called, in an interview to Al-Monitor, on the international community to act as mediator to “force Turkey to engage in peaceful negotiations on the Kurdish question”, adding that the PKK was “still ready for peace but that if the Turkish government refused a peaceful solution and international powers remained silent we would have no choice but to continue resisting”. The last Turkish ground operation in Iraq were cut short upon an US injunction…
In the morning of the 11th, an explosion at the riot police HQ in Diyarbekir caused 3 deaths and at least 4 injured. The Minister of the Interior at first attributed it to an accident during building work, but the PKK claimed a bomb attack with over 2 tons of explosives placed in a tunnel under the building. This was later confirmed by the Minister of the Interior, Suleyman Soylu, and 177 people were detained. The following night Turkish planes bombed the Zakho region, in Iraq Kurdistan, targeting PKK bases, and on the 14th, the Turkish Army announced that it had destroyed 7 shelters the night before and several arms dumps. In the morning of the 21st two Turkish soldiers were killed and two others wounded near Şırnak, near the Iraqi border, during a clash with the PKK. This followed a week of fighting during which, according to the Anatolia news agency, 45 Kurdish fighters were killed… In the afternoon, Turkish Air Force and artillery bombed and shelled the Amêdî region, in Iraqi Kurdistan, wounding a civilian. Early on the 23rd, 2 Turkish soldiers were wounded in the Uludere district near Şırnak and died in hospital. Late on the 22nd another soldier was killed and 2 others wounded near Kulp (Diyarbakir). New air raids hit for the 3rd day the Amêdî region. Then on the 26th, after hitting Rojava and the Sinjar region of Iraqi Kurdistan (see the articles on these two countries) Turkey bombed the region of Zab, for the second day running, announcing it had killed 6 PKK fighters before announcing having killed 14 other fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan.
On the 28th, Nechirvan Barzani, the Prime Minister of the KRG, met the Turkish President for 45 minutes at Istanbul. The pro-government paper Yeni Safak reported that the discussions concerned the struggle against the PKK.
The growing authoritarianism of Mr. Erdoğan inside his country and his murky orientations resulting from his anti-Kurdish obsession abroad are clearly increasing Turkey’s international isolation. A report from the Organisation for European Security and Cooperation (OESC) condemns the conditions prevailing during the 16 April referendum. In addition, a report submitted to the House of Representatives of the US Congress, after an uncompromising analysis of Turkey’s policies, recommended the re-evaluation of its membership of NATO…
The OESC observers present for the Constitutional referendum gave of the conditions under which it took place an uncompromising report that enraged Turkish government and President. It recalls that the OESC had requested Turkey to authorise the presence of observers following discussions with representatives of the opposition and because of the nature of the Constitutional changes proposed and the harmful context (imposition of the State of Emergency, closing of opposition media and imprisonment of journalists). Moreover, a certain number of procedural recommendations regarding the legal context had not been taken into account, such as certain restrictions to the active and passive right to vote (the absence of a law covering the campaign expenses); the lack of any possibility of challenging the decisions of the Electoral Commission and “the lack of provisions for an international and civic observation of the elections”.
The report points out that the referendum’s content did not abide by what is generally considered “good practice”: the voters had to accept or reject by a single vote the 18 amendments proposed, which altered 72 articles in the Constitution, without being able make different choices for each issue raised. Furthermore, the amendments concerned were not shown on the ballot papers. Regarding freedom to take part in the vote the report notes that the law limited participation in the campaign to just those parties that the Supreme Court’s Public Prosecutor’s Office had approved, which had to be represented in at least half of the country’s provinces and a third of the districts of these provinces and having held a Congress at least six months before… In consequence, 19 political parties that had taken part in the parliamentary elections in 2015 were refused the right to take part in the referendum campaign — of the 92 registered parties only 10 were accepted. The High Electoral Commission had also forbidden participation to professional organisations and civil society bodies — one of them was able to participate, not having succeeded to register itself as a political party…
The OESC observers also give evidence of unfavorable conditions suffered by the “No” supporters — limitations to fundamental freedoms, a media coverage clearly favorable to the party in office and the President. The “Yes” campaign received 76% of the TV time and 77% of the press coverage, mainly positive in character, whereas the “No” received 23% of the TV and press coverage, mainly neutral. The Prime Minister and the President used the inauguration ceremonies linked to their positions to campaign for the “Yes”. The lack of any law limiting campaign expenses undermined any equality in the presentation of opinions. Voters were thus unable to have access to impartial information on key aspects of the reform they were supposed to decide about. Finally, the “No” campaign was hampered in many ways: the HDP poster and a song in Kurdish were forbidden for “violating the principles of the State and the use of Turkish as official language” and the police sometimes intervened violently to interrupt meetings for the “No”. Moreover, when the vote took place in “security zones” set up in Kurdistan (Batman, Bingöl, Hakkari, Kars, Mardin and Tunceli), the police checked the identity papers of voters to identify people wanted. The OESC also noted that access to the polling stations by European observers were often refused or restricted.
The report thus casts doubts on the independence of the referendum administration by revealing that of the 11 members of the High Electoral Commission elected from amongst the Judges of the Court of Appeals and the State Council, 8 were promoted after 2016, whereas the magistracy had already been subjected to many purges. Three of the replaced judges were, moreover, in detention pending trial. Finally, since the proclamation of the State of Emergency, many civil servants at all levels of the electoral administration have been replaced by decree: 143 Presidents of Polling booths were stripped of office and 67 of them placed in provisional detention, 9 Presidents of district polling Offices were dismissed and 2 of them placed in provisional detention and more then 500 members of electoral Councils at all levels also placed in detention… Furthermore, while the judiciary has the main responsibility for administering the referendum and arbitrating any differences, the recent sacking of 3,979 judges and Prosecutors (one third of the magistracy) had an influence of the independence of the magistracy during the referendum. In April, 45 supplementary magistrates were dismissed and, on 4th April, 3 judges and a Prosecutor were suspended and investigated because their decision to release 21 journalists detained following the “coup d’État”. Many organisations chose to limit their activities of observing the poll from fear of repercussions. After the July coup, 1,583 organisations were dissolved, some of them active in the observation of polling events. All told, only 73 foreign observers were able to register to observe the referendum. The OESC also notes that only 38 of the 218 decisions adopted by the High Electoral Commission have been published. Indeed, the latter, contacted regarding the displacing of some polling booths by political parties, refused to express any opinion on the subject. It also decided that some legal alterations ruling the organization of elections, made by decree following the State of Emergency, would come into effect immediately, although article 67 of the Constitution provides for a one-year delay before such changes come into effect… Finally the High Commission’s last minute decision to alter the criteria for validating ballot papers was considered by the OESC as being in contradiction with the law, which explicitly stipulates that such ballot papers must be considered invalid. Noting that it is not possible to appeal against this decision, the report recalls that the HDP announced it had detected anomalies in 668 protocols.
All these factors fully demonstrate the undemocratic character of the 16 April referendum.
The second document that aroused the Turkish Government’s fury is the report by David L. Phillips, director of the programme on building peace and rights of the Institute for Human Rights Research of Columbia University. Presented on 5 April at an audition by the Foreign Affairs Commission of the US House of Representatives, it accuses the Turkish government of corruption (in particular by President Erdogan’s family), its domestic policy (non-observance of Human Rights, particularly regarding the Kurds) and its foreign policy (murky relations with ISIS). It recommends an enquiry into the military operations carried out in the Kurdish provinces, which it describes as “war crimes”, as well as a re-evaluation of Turkey’s membership of NATO because of its links with ISIS.
Regarding corruption, the report accuses the AKP’s one-party authority of having enabled the development of a “culture of corruption” affecting the highest levels of the government as well as Erdoğan’s family itself. It recalls that after an enquiry carried out in December 2013 that led to the arrest of 52 people and forced 5 AKP ministers to resign as well as the broadcasting on internet of a conversation in which Erdoğan told his son Bilal to “get rid of the money he had in his house” all the judges and police involved in the operation were dismissed and the evidence destroyed… The report then tackles the latest scandal threatening the Turkish government: the involvement of a Turco-Iranian smuggler protected by Erdoğan, Reza Zarrab, in illegal money transfers on Iran’s behalf, then under US sanctions, carried out through Chinese screen companies and particularly the Turkish Halkbank Bank. Zarrab’s arrest on the 19th March at Miami airport was followed, on 27 March in New York, by that of the Halkban Vice-President, Mehmet Hakan Attila, for international operations. Phillips recommends the pursuit of enquiries on Zarrab and that his trial be held in August 2017 as planned.
Regarding Human Rights abuses, the report accuses Turkey of systematically flaunting freedom of expression and association by using, in particular the 1999 anti-terrorist law to silence its opponents. It recalls that Article 216 of the Turkish Penal Code, which imposes a prison sentence of 3 years for “inciting hatred or violence on the basis of ethnicity or religion”, is essentially used against Kurds, and that Article 299, that allows legal charges for “insulting the President”, has been used no less than 1,845 times between August 2014 and March 2016… Regarding the control of Internet, it cites Law 5651 of February 2015, which authorizes the Direction of Communications to block web sites without seeking authorization from a judge as well as that of April 2015 modifying the powers of the Intelligence Services (MIT), which authorizes access by the MIT to the personal data of any individual without warrant of a court order. On the legal level, Phillips recommends that the US refuse to politicise the case of Imam Gülen’s extradition, to examine the evidence provided by Turkey to see if it really justifies his extradition and to evaluate if, in the cas on an extradition, he would obtain a fair trial in Turkey…
Regarding the military operations in the country’s Kurdish provinces, Phillips recommends the setting up of a Commission of enquiry and a file on the war crimes committed by Turkey, considering that “the danger that Interpol freeze the possessions and restrict Erdogan’s and his family’s movements could have a positive influence on Turkey’s behaviour”.
Taking up the elements of the enquiry by the author on the cooperation between Turkey and ISIS (attached as an annex) the report recommends that the anti-ISIS coalition free itself from the exclusive use of Turkey’s Incirlik base (which allows Turkey to exert pressure) by using other bases in Cyprus and Jordan. Recalling that “NATO is more than just a military alliance for the security of its members but also a coalition of countries sharing common values”, it remarks that Turkey “would not be accepted as a member of NATO if the alliance were created today” and recommends that a Committee of evaluation be set up to decide on the expulsion of a country if it does not respect for several consecutive years the criteria of democracy and Human Rights. Such a Committee could thus re-evaluate the quality of Turkey’s membership of NATO. Finally he recommends the holding of new auditions [in the House of Representative] to examine the manner in which the referendum was held, especially the counting of the votes.
April was marked by a major change in American policies regarding Bashar al-Assad’s regime. After an air strike using chemical weapons on the 4th at Khan Sheikhoun, a town South of Idlib held by rebels, caused 58 deaths according to the CHRS, including 11 children under 8 years of age (a number of victims later revised to over 70), US Navy vessels in the Eastern Mediterranean launched 59 Tomahawk missiles against the Shayrat air base from which, according to American experts, the Syrian planes responsible for the chemical attack had taken off. The Syrian Army immediately denied any responsibility and on the 5th Russia declared that the gas had been released when a rebel warehouse was hit by the bombing. The American officials stated they had informed the Russians of their missile strike beforehand and had not hit the part of the base where they were stationed. According to the Pentagon, the missiles drastically reduced the regime’s ability to use chemical arms. On the 13th the Russians used their veto for the 8th time since the start of the civil war six years ago to block a Security Council motion proposed by the West, condemning the chemical attack attributed to the regime. On the 14th, the Syrian President declared that the affair was a pure invention, a Western plot, since his government had transferred all its chemical weapons out of the country in 2013. On the 26th, however, the French Intelligence Services made public a report concluding that the regime was responsible for the gas attack.
It is in this context that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) a Kurdo-Arab military alliance dominated by the YPG, a militia affiliated to the Kurdish PYD party) announced that on the 13th they were starting the fourth phase of their offensive against ISIS at Raqqa, aiming to liberate from ISIS the whole of the region North of Raqqa and the Jalab valley. On the morning of the 15th, despite ISIS’s mines and snipers, the SDF entered the town of Tabqa, about 30 Km West of Raqqa, killing at least ten jihadists and capturing half of the Alexandria quarter, South of the town, while the fighting was continuing. Another 27 jihadists were also killed in fighting for the village of al-Mushayrifah, adjacent to the town. Then on the 18th they announced the formation at Aïn Issa, about 50 Km from Raqqa, of a “Civil Council” composed of inhabitants of the town and the province that will administer them after they have been taken from ISIS.
At the end of the month tensions between Rojava and Turkey sharply increased with several air strikes by the Turkish Air Force in the night of 24 and 25 April. The first was aimed at the YPG command centre, on Mount Karaçok, near the border town of al-Malikiyah, as well as the press centre where some Kurdish journalists were working, and the radio station. The next day the YPG announced a casualty list of 18 dead, fighters and media officials – a count later re-evaluated by the CHRS at 28 deaths. A second air raid was aimed at the Sinjar region for the first time, on the Iraqi side of the border, hitting Yezidi fighters of the YBŞ militia, affiliated to the PKK. A HQ of the KRG Peshmergas was also hit and 4 Peshmergas killed and 9 wounded. The PYD co-President, Salih Muslim, requested in a televised interview to the anti-ISIS coalition not to remain silent after this attack, which the PYD had expected, and described as support for ISIS jihadists, recalling that the SDF had been hit by the Turks while they were fighting the jihadists as part of the US-led coalition. Turkey declared that it had informed the US and Russia but the American administration reacted violently against the strikes, accusing Turkey of not coordinating with the anti-ISIS coalition. The next day the coalition spokesman, John Dorrian, declared that Turkey had informed the USA of these strikes less than an hour before launching them. He also added that the information sent to the coalition’s Air Operations Centre described a great area and were not precise enough about the timing or the location of the strikes to ensure the safety of American forces that were 10 km away. Another leading US officer, speaking off the record, stated that the delay had been about 20 minutes, “certainly not the coordination you expect from a partner and ally in the fight against ISIS”. Russia, for its part, expressed its concern over “unacceptable” strikes carried out on “the territory of another sovereign country without consultation with its legitimate government”, while Damascus described the Turkish strikes as “aggression by Erdoğan’s regime against Syrian territory”.
On the 26th, fighting broke out on the borders between Rojava and Turkey in the Hasakeh region. According to the CHRS they began when the YPG opened fire on a Turkish armored vehicle that had crossed the border. Demonstrations calling for the setting up of an air exclusion zone broke out the same day at Qamishlo and other Rojava towns, soon to be followed by fresh fighting opposite Şanliurfa. On the 29th the YPG declared that they would withdraw from the operations against Raqqa if the US did not take measures too protect their fighters. On the same day US armored vehicles interposed themselves between the YPG and the Turkish Army at the Syrian-Turkish border in the Derbasiyah region, just where their two allies had been fighting one another.
On the 30th, the Turkish President threatened new strikes against the YPG in Syria and the PKK in Iraq, stating that the American support of these groups “should be ended”. At a time when US policy seems to be moving towards a greater involvement in Syria, we are entitled to ask what will be Washington’s reaction to these strikes against its main ally against ISIS on the ground… The Turkish attacks may well prove counter-productive, although on the 30th the SDF were still continuing their advance inside Tabqa, freeing from the jihadists six more quarters of the city.
With little media coverage, the battle against ISIS in West Mosul is continuing, seemingly very slowly and with heavy losses. The jihadists, weakened in Iraq as in Syria, are, nevertheless far from giving up: on 1st April and Iraqi Air Force plane killed between 150 and 250 of them at Baaj, close to the Syrian border, suggesting they are still moving between Syria and Iraq. On the 6th ISIS shot down, for the first time ever, an Iraqi helicopter over the Al-Ghabat quarter of East Mosul, killing both of its pilots. On the 9th, a new mass grave containing 200 Yezidi corpses, mainly women and children, was discovered in Sinjar. This is the tenth such discovery, with a total of 1,646 corpses… On the 15th, Syrian planes struck ISIS near the Iraqi border thanks to an exchange of information between the two countries. ISIS has retained the ability to launch terrorist attacks, like the one on the 5th at Tikrit, which caused 31 deaths, including 14 policemen. The jihadists had entered the town disguised as police and attacked a control point and the home of an officer before being shot down or blowing themselves up. The Kurds, who are not present in Mosul, remain vigilant: on the 11th, the Suleimaniyah and Halabjah Asayish (police) arrested 60 people and are also looking for jihadists who may have infiltrated with the displaced people. On the 28th the Kirkuk police arrested 63 suspects. A thousand displaced people are still arriving daily in Kurdistan — the total is now 164,000 settled in camps near Erbil and Dohuk…
Everyone is now beginning to be concerned about the many problems of the after-ISIS period: relations between the communities, the fate of Yezidi and Christian minorities, the governance of the Sunni Arab regions such as Mosul, but also the future of the territories disputed between Baghdad and Erbil. These questions are also somewhat present at the intra-Kurdish level: on the 15th the PUK group in the Iraqi Parliament presented a Bill to authorise the permanent stationing in Kirkuk of that party’s “Black Force”, which had occupied the premises of the Northern Oil Compny last month. The PUK, the dominant force in Kirkuk, is competing with the KDP for control of the province – and its oil resources. There the decision by the Governor and the Provincial Council to fly the Kurdish flag as well as the Iraqi flag on all official buildings (a decision taken at a session boycotted by the Arab and Turcoman representatives) continues to arouse controversy. On 1st April the Iraqi Parliament opposed this decision (in a session this time boycotted by the Kurdish representatives). The KRG spokesman replied that only the Supreme Court could make such a decision and the Speaker of the Kirkuk Provincial Council, Rebwar Talabani, declared that the Kurdish flag would not be withdrawn, the Federal Court having ruled against it. On the 3rd the Brayatî block, which has a majority in the Provincial Council, launched further debating by asking that a proposal made in 2008 for the Province to become part of the Kurdistan Region, be put again to the vote! The next day, the Provincial Council rejected the Iraqi Parliament’s decision and adopted a resolution by 26 out of 41 (in a session boycotted by the Arab and Turcoman representatives) calling for a referendum on the Province’s inclusion in the Kurdistan Region. The Council’s Speaker then asked the Iraqi government to take the measures needed for organizing the referendum and a member of the Council, Ahmed Askari, said that if Baghdad did not do so the province would turn to the KRG or UNO to organize it. Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution does provide for Kirkuk and the other areas disputed between Baghdad and Erbil, to decide their future by referendum. There is, however, disagreement about the electoral body: Arabs and Turcomans accuse the Kurds of having kurdified the province since 2004 and want to use a list of residents that the Kurds consider reflects Saddam Hussein’s arabisation policies…
The political stands on the issue of the Kurdish flag at Kirkuk have gone well beyond the Iraqi borders: the Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yıldırım, expressed his support for the Iraqi Parliaments opposition to it; on the 3rd Iran warned that this decision risked “increasing tensions” and the following day the Turkish President threatened it would “endanger the Kurdistan Region’s relations with Ankara” unless withdrawn “as rapidly as possible”. On the 6th the Governor of Kirkuk asked the Iraqi Foreign Minister to reply to the Turkish President’s “interference”, recalling that the decision to raise the Kurdish flag was taken to honour the Peshmergas killed while defending the city, at their families’ request. On the 10th about a hundred Iraqi M.P.s signed a petition calling for the Governor of Kirkuk’s dismissal — a demand that has little chance of being carried out as the Constitution limits this possibility solely to cases of corruption. Furthermore a Kurdish delegation returning to Baghdad announced, on the 6th, an agreement on the way to carry out article 150 of the Constitution for organizing a census in Kirkuk, once ISIS expelled. It remains to be seen if it will ever be carried out or will join the list of dead letter agreements…
Meanwhile, although the various Kurdish political forces seem all in agreement to organize a referendum on self-determination for the Kurdistan Federal Region before the end of 2017, which could also cover the disputed territories, they differ about the way to organize it and are continuing discussions on the issue. On the 2nd, the PUK and the KDP decided on a “Common Committee”, including all the political trends in Kurdistan, which would decide on the mechanism for preparing and carrying out the referendum. A joint PUK-KDP delegation met the Kurdistan Islamic Union (UIK, Yekgirtû) the next day, then the Communist Party of Kurdistan and after this meeting, a PDK representative, Roj Nouri Shaways, declared at a press conference that the referendum could be held without re-activating the Parliament. On 26 March, the High Electoral Commission had declared that holding the referendum required that the Kurdish Parliament be re-activated in order to pass a law providing for the referendum. On the 4th the Gorran (Change) movement called for the reactivation of Parliament, declaring that the referendum was “not a problem to resolve during meetings of political parties” but that “the Kurdistan Parliament, the highest legal legitimate body should take the necessary measures to carry out the referendum in Kurdistan’s provinces, including Kirkuk (…)” before announcing, on the 14th, that it would not be sending a representative to the inter-party Committee as the Region’s President had asked. The Islamic League (Yekgirtû) and the Islamic Group (Komal) seemed to have a similar approach. The PUK, in the government alongside the KDP but also allied to Gorran, has gradually shifted position. On the 17th the Secretary of its Political Committee, Mala Bakhtyar, declared that to hold the referendum as planned in the autumn, Parliament would have to be reactivated. The PUK re-iterated this position on the 22nd in a joint declaration with Gorran, in which it added that the referendum should also be held in the disputed areas, considered as “areas of Kurdistan outside the administration of the Federal Region”. Isolated in its position of an organizing committee independent of Parliament, the KDP finally negotiated. On the 23rd, the political Committees of the KDP and the PUK met to discuss the referendum and the way to reactivate Parliament to “help the referendum process and the independence as well as national unity”. Here too there were reactions beyond the Iraqi borders, not only from Baghdad but also in Turkey and Iran, who described the referendum as a mistake or ill-timed because of the tense regional situation. On the 13th, one of the PUK’s leaders, Saadi Ahmed Pira, stated that “the threatening messages from Iran and Turkey — as well as from the Central government — about Kirkuk and the referendum have reinforced the PUK and the KDP decision to hold it.”
In parallel to this, the KDP-PKK tensions linked to the clashes in Sinjar between the Syrian “Roj” Peshmergas (supported by the KDP) and the YBŞ (affiliated to the PKK) have not much abated. On the 4th Şilan Eminoğlu, the representative at Erbil of the “pro-Kurdish” HDP Party of Turkey, stated that six of its members, arrested as they were going to a demonstration of the Kurdistan Movement for a Free Society (Tavgarî Azadî) condemning the tensions in Sinjar, were still being detained. However, at the end of the month, during the night of 24-25, tensions re-appeared in an unexpected manner with the Turkish bombing of the YBŞ in Sinjar, in which one of the KRG bases was also hit, killing 4 peshmergas and wounding 9 others. The Peshmergas Ministry declared that this raid was “unacceptable”, having caused considerable destruction, and asked the PKK to leave the area. Five Iraqi Kurdish parties: the PUK, Gorran and the Islamist parties, demanded the International community to react and the PUK representative in Ankara sent the Turkish Foreign Ministry a letter of protest. The next day, while still rejecting the Turkish strikes on Iraqi Kurdistan, the PDK declared that the presence of the PKK in Sinjar was the principal reason for the region’s instability and demanded the departure of its fighters. The Turkish President replied that the strikes had been coordinated with Masud Barzani and expressed regret for the deaths of the Peshmergas. However Mr. Barzani’s security officer implicitly contradicted this in an interview with the New York Times, stating that the KRG had demanded explanations from Turkey, for this strike, which had been “a surprise”. On the 27th the Iraqi Parliament assigned an investigation of this bombing to its “Defense and Security Commission”.
The independent Iranian Kurdish film director Keywan Karimi, originally from Baneh, was released from prison on Wednesday 19th April. He had passed six months in Teheran’s Evin prison for having made a film that the Iranian regime accused of “insulting sacred values”. Sentenced to six years prison in 2015, he had his sentence reduced to 5 years, which were formally suspended after a series of protests from abroad as well as from Iranian directors like Jafar Panahi and Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Then, in November 2016 he was sentenced to 223 whiplashes and one year in prison for his film Writing on the city, a documentary produced n France, showing the graffiti on the walls of Teheran. These graffiti expressed political protests against the repression of the period in the country since the Islamic revolution. According to PEN International, Kareem, who has been imprisoned since November 2016, has suffered several haemorages in the lungs to the point where the Evin prison doctors recommended his transfer to a specialist institution, which the prison authorities refused. Last December the French film makers and the producer of Kaami’s Writing on the city, asked France and other European countries to put pressure on Iran to secure his release. Amongst the films made by Karimi are: The Adventure of a Married Couple, a short black and white film made in 2013, shown in some 40 film festivals and that won many prizes, his first full length film, Drum, also in black and white, selected at the 2016 Venice Festival, that tells the story of a Teheran lawyer whose life is disrupted by a parcel delivered by the post. Karimi had already spent 15 days in solitary confinement in 2013 for “insulting religious values”, but had continued his film work. The 2017 international Festival and Forum of Human Rights devoted the 15th session of its programme to him.
While Karimi has been released, we learnt from a local source from the Kurdish Human Rights Network, that on 12 April the Kurdish writer Ali Bedirkhani, also known as Şiwan, was sentenced on appeal on 29 March to three years jail by the Urumieh Revolutionary Court for “activity against national security” following confessions extracted after two months’ torture. Bedirkhani, who would be a descendent of the Bedir Khan family, has double Iraqi and Iranian nationality, as his parents emigrated to Iran from Iraq some thirty years ago. Amongst his books are: Turkey, democracy and the Kurds, a dialogue of ideas, and also Love the refugee, Kurdish Stories and Legends. Still a student when arrested he is now forbidden to study.
In the political field the different Kurdish parties of Iran declared in a common statement that the coming elections, due on 19 May were undemocratic and not free, and called on the Kurds to boycott them. On the 30th, the Kurdish Komala party announced it was resuming armed struggle against Iran after a 25-year interruption. It is the third Iranian Kurdish party to make this decision since 2015. In 2012 Komala entered into an alliance with the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran. The third Kurdish party to wage an armed struggle in Iranian Kurdistan is the PJK, linked to the PKK and the PYD.