Throughout the month the two self-declared “capitals” of the Jihadist organisation ISIS, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, have been the scene of fierce fighting. This allows one to foresee the approaching end of ISIS’s territorial control in both countries. On the 30th, even as the SDF were fighting the Jihadists in Raqqa, the Iraqi Prime Minister felt able to officially announce the fall of Mosul. Other antagonisms, possibly foreshadowing other military fronts, have already begun to emerge — the anti-ISIS coalition against the Damascus regime, Turkey coming out openly against Rojava…
In Iraq, the Army announced, on 3rd June, it had taken back a new district, al-Saha al-Oula, in West Mosul, from the jihadists, as well as half of another, al-Zinjili (just North of the old city) and was aiming at taking al-Shifaa. ISIS, now only holding the old city and a few adjoining areas, has continued the struggle by using as human shields nearly 200,000 civilians (a UNO estimation), who are trapped by the fighting and lacking any access to food or medical care.
On the 13th the Iraqis completely took over al-Zinjili, thus leaving ISIS completely encircled, with its back to the Tigris and only holding the old city and the so-called “medical quarter”. On the 18th the Iraqis launched a final assault on the old city. To minimise losses amongst the 100,000 civilians still trapped in ancient buildings and so very fragile and dangerous, they decided to avoid using very heavy weaponry.
On the 20th, as the al-Shifaa quarter was falling, the Kurdish journalist Bakhtyar Haddad was killed on the spot by a mine. He was guiding three French colleagues, two of whom, Stéphane Villeneuve and Véronique Robert, later also died of their injuries, leaving Samuel Forey as the only survivor. The next day the Iraqi troops were only 300 metres from the al-Nuri mosque — the very place from which al-Bagdadi had proclaimed himself “Caliph” in 2014. On the 22nd the Jihadist chose to blow it up, with its renowned leaning minaret — while accusing of the destruction an American air strike. On the 28th, after taking two other quarters to the Northwest of the Mosque, Hadarat al-Saada and al-Ahmadiya, the Iraqis estimated that there were only 350 Jihadist still resisting in the old city. Then, on the 29th they announced the highly symbolic victory of taking the Mosque (or rather its ruins). This allowed Prime Minister al-Abadi to officially declare (somewhat anticipating the final victory) the end of the “Caliphate”: “The return of the al-Nuri Mosque and the al-Hadba Minaret to the nation’s bossom marks the end of the “Sate of Lies” ISIS”. However, at the end of the month the jihadist organisation still controlled a region in the West of Iraq as big as Belgium with its hundreds of thousands Iraqi inhabitants…
While less covered by the media, the Kurdish front has not been inactive, particularly in the Kirkuk Province. In the city the police captured 8 jihadists wearing explosive belts who wanted to blow up a car bomb. It was finally detonated by the Kurds who are also seeking three other jihadists who managed to escape. On the 15th, five other individuals were arrested after 4 others at the beginning of the week, then 23 and finally 39 others, all suspected of belonging to “sleeping” jihadist cells. The Province’s second “hot spot” is the area of Tuz Khurmatu to the South, which ISIS continues to attack from Hawija. The Iraqi Prime Minister had announced on the 11th the imminence of an offensive against that town as well as Tell Afar. However, the time taken to retake Mosul has caused a delay that exasperated the displaced inhabitants as well as the Peshmergas. The latter even accuse Baghdad of having delayed the assault in order to “create problems”. On the 14th morning the Peshmergas repelled several attacks on the town of Zarga, near Tuz Khurmatu, suffering 2 killed and 6 wounded. On the 18th, they repelled a new assault on the Sidiq air base nearby, forcing 4 jihadists wearing explosive belts to blow themselves up before reaching their target. Then on the 20th another general attack on the Peshmergas’ bases was repelled and a Kurdish fighter killed. According to figures published by the Kurdish Regional Government on the 4th, the Peshmergas casualties, since 2014, have been 1,760 dead, over 9,000 wounded and 63 still missing…
The third front beginning to appear in the dispatches is that of Iraqi-Syrian fringes. This desert border region is gradually acquiring strategic importance, both as a line of communication between jihadists and as an area of confrontation between different interests, from the most local ones (Kurdish Peshmergas vs. Hashd al-Shaabi militia, mainly Shiite and backed by Iran), to the more global ones (USA vs. Iran) including the regional ones (KRG vs. Iraqi Central Government, Syrian regime vs. rebels)… On the 4th, the Hashd al-Shaabi, backed by the Iraqi Air Force, regained the town of Baaj from ISIS. On the 6th Masud Barzani, making a clear allusion to their advance to the South of Sinjar, stated at a meeting with US Amy officers, that it was “inacceptable for any military force to encroach on Kurdistan’s borders and impose its will”. On the 14th, a high-ranking delegation from the Syrian Defence Ministry arrived in Baghdad to discuss the security of the border with the Iraqi Chief of Staff General Othman al-Ghanimi and co-ordinate the struggle against ISIS. The question was raised of setting up a joint operations centre against the jihadists. The opening of a land link between the Damascus Army and its Iraqi neighbour is vital as it would make easier the transport of Iranian military supplies. On the 17th the Iraqi Army (but accompanied by Sunni Arab tribal fighters) regained from ISIS the al-Waleed border post, near to Tanf on the Syrian side, which is held by US-backed Syrian fighters. The week before some pro-Assad militia had reached the Iraqi border on the Syrian side, Northeast of that town...
The question of the governance of the liberated territories is being raised in an increasingly urgent manner, without, however, any solution appearing. At the same meeting with US Army officers on the 6th, Barzani deplored the absence of any clear political project on this issue, echoing the statements made on the 4th by a Yezidi Member of the Baghdad Parliament, Vian Dakhîl. She had demanded that, to avoid fresh violations of the rights of residents, a civil administrator be rapidly appointed, working in co-ordination with the KRG and the Central Government and assisted by a Provincial Council including representatives of all the communities. This is because rumours of abuses of power by Government troops are becoming increasingly persistent. Human Rights Watch published on the 5th a communiqué accusing them of the extrajudicial execution of at least 26 prisoners suspected of being ISIS members, young men found blindfolded, hands and feet bound.
On the Syrian side of the border, the SDF forces, estimated as 60,000 strong, announced on the 6th that they had launched the attack on Raqqa. Their spokesman, Talal Silo, announced that, after a “preparation” of night air raids, a simultaneous attack on three fronts: West, North and East, with ground support from certain elements of the coalition had been launched (following this announcement the Turkish Prime Minister declared that Turkey would retaliate to any threat from Raqqa or any point in the region…). On the 12th, the UK-based Syrian Centre for Human Rights (SCHR) announced that the SDF, after having taken the al-Rumaniya quarter the day before, held Al-Meshleb to the East and some 70% of al-Senaa and were now fighting to take Hatin to the West. ISIS is defending itself in its usual manner by placing many mines and using as human shields the civilians — estimated by UNO as 160,000… On the 18th, the SDF announced they had taken the quarters of al-Biyatra and al-Batanî in East Raqqa, while continuing to advance westwards and liberate the civilian prisoners of the Jihadists at al-Dar’iya. Then, on the 26th they announced the taking of Qadisiya and the beginning of the city’s encircling. On the 30th after a violent Jihadist counter-attack the fighting again increased in intensity...
Speculation has begun about the fate of ISIS’s leader, Abou Bakr al-Bagdadi. US and Iraqi Intelligence services believe that he left Mosul before it fell and is hiding in the Syrian-Iraqi border area. On the 16th however, the Russian Minister of Defence declared that he might have been killed by Russian air strikes near Raqqa on 28th May together with other ISIS leaders, over 30 military commanders and up to 300 bodyguards, who were taking part in an important meeting. The anti-ISIS coalition stated that it was unable to confirm this and the Russians say they are checking their information.
While we seem to be moving towards the end of the “Caliphate” in terms of areas controlled, this is, unfortunately far from the end of the organisation’s terrorist activity, whether in the Middle East of the rest of the world.
This month the Syrian situation has evolved towards an intensification of fighting: according to a report published by the United Nations, the so-called “de-escalation zones” negotiated in May between Russia, Turkey and Iran have only reduced the clashes in one of the four areas covered — that of Idlib Province and in the West of Aleppo. In the South, especially round Deraa, fighting has rather intensified – there is talk of negotiations between Russia, the US and Jordan for a cease-fire between the regime and rebels in this region. However, elsewhere the tensions are increasing between Russia and the US: the destruction of a Syrian plane East of Damascus on the 5th by rebels using American anti-air weapons provoked an indignant reaction from Sergueï Lavrov, who described it on the 10th as “unacceptable” and called on the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, to take appropriate measures to prevent any repetition of such an incident...
Besides, ISIS’s pulling back and the regime’s advances have given rise to developments unheard of since the start of the civil war. Thus, at the beginning of the month the Syrian Army entered Raqqa Province from Aleppo, launching 8 air raids against the Jihadists on the South bank of the Euphrates and the Aleppo-Raqqa highway, about 70 Km West of the city. Moreover, for the first time in years the regime’s forces appeared in the country’s extreme East, effecting a junction with the Iraqi Shiite militia and regaining control of the Tanf border post. Near this town, on the Syrian side of the border, is a base where US troops are training rebels. According to an off-the-record Pentagon source, these US-backed rebels were advancing northward along the border to attack ISIS when they were cut off from their rearward supply sources by pro-government forces. This led the US, on the 13th and from Jordan, to deploy lorry-mounted Himars missiles. Furthermore, according to the SDF spokesman, Talal Silo, clashes have intensified since the 17th in the Tabqa region and South of Raqqa, between the SDF and the Damascus Army, to such a point that Silo threatened reprisals were these attacks to continue. On the 18th, a Syrian plane that, according to Washington, had bombed an area close to those controlled by the SDF South of Raqqa, had been shot down by a US fighter (but after the Americans had contacted the Russians by telephone). A Pentagon communiqué regarding this incident stated that the coalition “is not seeking to fight the Syrian Regime, the Russians or the pro-regime forces but would not hesitate to defend themselves or their partners against any threats”. Indeed, for several weeks US planes have been hitting pro-regime fighters supported by Iran who were trying to advance near the Iraqi or Jordan border to the Southeast of the country, in areas where US-backed fighters are also deployed.
It is in this context that the SDF carried out their anti-ISIS operation round Raqqa (see the article about ISIS, above). The participation in this operation of fighters from the Deir ez-Zour Military Council has led some observers to think that one of the next objectives of the Kurdish-Arab alliance might be this major city of Eastern Syria. In any case the area between these two cities has already been to a considerable extent “cleansed” of jihadists and the SDF had alrady mentioned in May their project, for economic reasons, of ensuring the control of Idlib to the West, so an extension eastwards too seems logical. Such projects are bound to increase the anxiety of the Turkish northern neighbour…
Indeed, Turkey has not remained inactive in the face of the SDF’s advances. According to a communiqué dated June 5th from the YPG’s press office, the Turkish Army and the Syrian Islamist they support had already launched over 80 attacks against various parts of Rojava during the month of May, causing the death of at least 11 SDF fighters. Amongst those groups, that the YPG considers Turkish paid mercenaries, is Ahrar al-Sham, which has particularly aimed at Afrin. According to Human Rights defence groups, these attacks have also made dozens of civilian victims.
Turkey has also been accused of using water as a weapon against Rojava. On the 2nd, Abdulkarim Omer, the International relations officer of the Cezire canton stated that, following Turkey’s closing of the Atatürk dam on the Euphrates, the volume held at Tîshrîn (near Kobanê) has dramatically fallen, creating a shortage of water and electricity in Kobanê and its region. The volume held at Tabqa has also dropped as well as the height of the Euphrates itself, by 4 or 5 metres. The dams’ administration has called on the international community to oblige Turkey to observe the international conventions and stop its retention of the waters of the Euphrates. Furthermore Îlham Ehmed, co-President of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC, the political expression of the SDF), in an article published in Özgürlükçü Demokrasi and reproduced the 14th in English in ANF News, accused Turkey of the insidious turkishisation and annexation of the Syrian regions it has controlled since last summer, around the towns of Jerablous, Azaz and al-Bab, by settling there Turkomans from other parts of Syria, teaching Turkish in the schools and setting up a police force that has to swear allegiance to Erdoğan…
On the 20th, according to ARA News, some Turkish-backed Islamist rebels attacked with mortar fire the village of Shuyukh, in the Kobanê region and, on the 21st, Turkish reinforcements crossed the border to go South of Azaz, held by pro-Turkish rebels who were already fighting the YPG (as in the Afrin region). This sending of Turkish reinforcements was confirmed by the SCHR. The Kurds have expressed their anxiety on the 22nd in the face of the concentration of Turkish troops on the border opposite the Afrin region, an anxiety which was further increased when, on the 24th, the Turkish pro-government daily Yeni Safak published an article entitled “The Turkish soldiers are getting ready for Idlib”, in which it explained that the Turkish troops would “ensure the security” of the Idlib region (see link http://www.yenisafak.com/en/world/turkishsoldiers-prepare-for-idlib-2739242).
According to this article, “the Turkish plan of setting up and closing the border is equally ready for Idlib, which is now the the focal point for many countries. The units of the Turkish Armed forces, which will enter Syria from three different points, will ensure control of a zone of up to 85 km in length and 35 km in depth. The corridor will begin on the East at Daret Izze – Qalaat Samaan [the heights of St Simon] and go on the West to Ubin – Khirbat al-Jawz [a village and displaced persons’ camp bordering on Hatay, about 30 km West of Idlib]. The depth of 35 km, which will reach Sahl al-Ghab [the al-Ghab plain, formerly the Oronte march] to the South of the Hatay border, will also be controlled by the Turkish Armed forces. Units of the Free Syrian Army will also be charged with the security of Idlib, under the Turkish Army’s control. 1,500 to 2,000 FDA troops have been ordered to be ready for ths eventuality”.
The zone mentioned in this article makes a rectangle stretching in a Northeast — Southwest direction from Azaz to the plain of al-Ghab, nearly 20 km South of Idlib cutting in width the Aleppo canton from Afrin, which would thus be completely encircled. It is highly unlikely that Damascus would accept such an invasion without reacting, especially as it would place the Turkish Army about 40 km East of Latakiah! While the aim of this operation is officially to ensure the security of the Idlib region, in reality, as the article says explicitly, it is (above all?) preventing the extension westwards of the land controlled by the SDF: “The positions of the PYD, affiliated to the PKK, will be blocked and attacks by this organisation on rebel areas prevented. (…) Moreover, as occurred for the terrorist corridor Afrin-Kobanê, blocked by the “Euphrates Shield” operation, the PKK plan [to create] a terrorist Afrin-Mediterranean corridor backed by Iran and the Assad regime would be defeated”. The article promises to carry out this operation in July, if it can be finalised in Astana. Late on the 27th the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Veysi Kaynak, declared that the Afrin canton should be “cleansed of terrorists” in order to “stabilise the region”.
On the 28th the Turkish Army announced clashes with the YPG near Azaz, after the YPG opened fire on some Turkish-backed rebels. The YPG for their side announced that Turksy had been shelling Afrin region for the last week — a shelling confirmed by the SCHR, which added that the YPG had retaliated. On the 29th, Sihanouk Dibo, one of the PYD leaders, launched an appeal to the international community to oblige Turkey to stop it attacks on Afrin. The SDF spokesman, Sharvan Darwish, echoed Dibo’s appeal and the YPG declared that it would not hesitate to counter-attacking any Turkish aggression. A Russian military base lies near Afrin but the Kurds are worried about a possible agreement between the Russians, Syrians and Turks that would give Turkey a free hand in Afrin.
After months of stalemate and debate between the Kurdistan Region’s political parties about the referendum on self-determination, the reactivation of Parliament and the issue of the Presidency, some advances this month allow to hope for a solition: on 7th June an agreement was announced between the 15 Kurdish parties to hold the self-determination referendum on the coming 25 September. The question, posed in four languages (Kurdish, Arabic, Syriac and Turkomenian) will read: “Do you want the Kurdistan region and the Kurdistan territories outside the the Kurdistan Region to become an independent State?”. The consultation by referendum should thus not only cover the administrative limits of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region as set by the 2005 Constitution, but also the territories “disputed” between the KRG and the Iraqi Central government, namely the Province of Kirkuk, the district of Makhmur (South of Erbil), the Sinjar (on the Syrian border) and the Khanaqin region (the Northern part of the Prvince of Diyala, on the Iranian border). Thus the inhabitants of the Kurdistan Region would decide whether the latter should become independent of Iraq and simultaneously those of the above-mentioned territories whether they wish them to become part of the Kurdistan Region. The Kurds, besides, now refuse to refer to the latter as “disputed territories”: the communiqué of the Region’s Presidency, published after the meeting, calls them “zones of Kurdistan lying outside the Region’s administration” and the Kurdistan Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, even before the meeting on the 7th had referred to them as “Kurdistani territories (kurdistanî) outside the limits of the Region of Kurdistan” at present “liberated by the blood of the martyrs and the Peshmergas” (the Kurdish language makes a distinction between kurdî, “Kurdish” in the ethnical sense of the term and kurdistanî, “Kurdistani”, referring to citizens of Kurdistan Region regardless of their ethnic origin or religion, thus encompassing its non-Kurdish residents like the Christans). Nechirvan Barzani added, moreover, that Erbil was ready for dialogue with Baghdad to find a solution regarding those territories that would satisfy both parties.
This first step towards a referendum must not make forget that serious internal divergences remain. The decision was taken during a meeting called by Masud Barzani in which representatives of the independent High Electoral Commission took part as well as the main Kurdish parties, with the notable exception of the Movement for Change (Gorran), and the Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG, Komal), which had chosen to boycott the meeting. Apart from the referendum the discussions covered the blockage to the reactivation of the Kurdistan Parliament and the Region’s internal political crisis. Those present agreed to “work towards the reactivation of Parliament and to resolve the political problems with the aim of reaching national harmony”. It might thus be hoped that this meeting would create a dynamic for solving the differences.
At the end of the meeting the politicl parties present were instructed to appoint within six days a representative to the “Referendum Committee”. Moreover a source close to the High electoral Commission stated on the NRT television channel that the Commission was capable of preparing the consultation by the date decided by the parties.
On the 11th, a few days after the meeting, the Movement for Change, Gorran, held the first meeting of its National Council since the death on 19 May of its leader and co-founder Nawshirvan Mustafa. Gorran repeated on this occasion that it believes in the creation of an independent Kurdistan, but that before holding a referendum it was necessary to reactivate Parliament so that it could pass a law to this effect. Gorran considers then that the manner in which the process has been launched is illegal. The dispute thus remains with the KDP, of which one of the leaders, Hoshyar Zêbari, declared on the contrary on the 12th that “after consulting many legal experts”, holding the referendum did not require the passing of a law as it was “an dministrative and executive decision”. The KDP seems, however, to soften its position since Zebari also added that many experts also considered that the vote would appear more legitimate “in the eyes f the world (…) if our institutions are active and functional” and that it would thus be preferable to reactivate the Parliament even if “the people’s will is superior to it”.
On the same day, the Head of the High Electoral Commission, Handren Mohammed, pointed out that the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Finance Minister had allocated a first budget of 6 million dollars specifically for the 25th September referendum. The Commission had demanded 31 million dollars, that is 17 million for the referendum and 14 million for the parliamentary and Presidential elections that would have to take place on 4th November.
On the 13th the PUK and the KDP held their first bilateral meeting following the referendum decision. The PUK this finds itself in a strange position: linked to Gorran by a political agreement while being allied to the KDP. The next day the PUK announced the decision to reactivate Parliament, an announcement confirmed by a declaration to Rûdaw by the leader of the Kurdistan Islamic Union (Yekgirtû), Salahaddin Bahadin, who also suggested that the Gorran Ministers of the KRG government could soon return to their posts as well as the Parliament’s Speaker, Yusuf Mohammed Sadiq — also a member of Gorran. Saadi Pira, a PUK leader, stated that Sadiq would preside at the first session of the Parliament, which should be held “at the earliest”, before resigning so that it could elect a new Speaker, also a member of Gorran. Pira added that the condition put forward by the KDP was that Sadiq should not stand as a candidate. Gorran immediately replied in a communiqué that it would not accept any prior conditions to the reactivation of Parliament. On the 15th a PUK Member of Parliament, Arez Abdullah, stated that the leaders of that party were divided over the means of ending the crisis and would meet to discuss the issue. On the 18th, Fadhel Miranî, secretary of the KDP Political Bureau, declared that the party would do everything possible to secure Gorran’s participation in the reactivation of Parliament.
The next day the PUK leading Council, after two day-long of meetings on the 15th and 18th expressed, in a communiqué its “conditional” support for the referendum: “Since its foundation to the present the slogan of the right to self-determination has been at the heart of the PUK’s struggle. In this perspective, the Council of Direction reaffirms that, just as it had been the pioneer in the struggle for democracy so it is for the right to self-determination (…). It will be the guarantor of this right and will fight for the success of the referendum, for the independence of the Kurdistan Region and all the Kurdistani regions that are separated [from it] on condition that all the procedures be approved by a law adopted by the Kurdistan Parliament”. On the 22nd the leaders of the PUK and Gorran published a joint communiqué declaring that the preparations for the referendum should begin once “the situation of Parliament is normalised” — that is once Parliament is reactivated. The discussions will thus continue.
Outside Kurdistan, reactions were numerous, expressing, as might have been expected, the fears that the Kurds’ decision might split the anti-ISIS front by provoking an increase in tension with Iraq, and insisting that the differences between Baghdad and Erbil be resolved by negotiation. This is the case with Russia, Germany, and the US and the European Union. Iran has expressed its opposition to a referendum and its support for the territorial unity of Iraq. Turkey adopted a more aggressive tone, the Prime Minister, Binali Yıldırım, describing the Kurdish decision as “irresponsible” and a “serous mistake”. The British Ambassador to Baghdad declared at a press conference that the British government thought that the Kurds had the right to self-determination but that that this was not a good time for it. The Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, described the 17th the referendum as “illegal”, as according to him such a vote should be the subject of a law passed by the Iraqi Parliament and the Constitution did not provide for provinces to secede. The UN Special Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) stated in a communiqué on the 14th that “it would not commit itself in any manner or in any form” to the referendum process.
The Kurdish replies to these criticisms took several forms. The KRG Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, stated that the various reactions were “normal” and did not worry Erbil. According to KRG sources, as against official reactions, many diplomats admit in private that their country would not actively oppose the Kurds’ projects even though it does not want to appear to support them. Hoshyar Zêbari, for his part compared the Kurdish referendum to the British Brexit and recalled that Great Britain and the European Union would negotiate it for at least two years, pointing out that there was no question of declaring independence overnight. As for the criticisms about the “inopportune” moment chosen, Fuad Hussein, Masud Barzani’s chief of staff, replied on the 17th in an interview given to Rûdaw that the US had demanded that the Kurds delay the referendum till after the Iraqi elections in March, but that Kurds had rejected this demand because of the uncertainty of the elections being held. Hoshyar Zêbarî, for his part, stated that the instability of the Middle East as a whole was just one of the reasons that impelled the Kurdish leaders to hold the referendum rapidly.
The tone adopted by the other Kurdish actors was in high contrast with other reactions. Osman Baydemir, the spokesman for the Turkish HDP, expressed during a Ramadan evening event at Batman his support of the referendum to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, declaring that it was a right belonging to Kurds: “I say very clearly that whatever the rights of the Turkish, Persian and Arab nations, the Kurds as an ancient nation in this region have the same rights — neither more nor less. (…) Whatever the decision of our brothers of Başur (Southern Kurdistan) with their Parliament, their political parties and their political will be, our duty is to respect and support it” (Rûdaw). Similarly Cemil Bayik, co-president of the Executive Council of the Union of Kurdish communities (KCK, the PKK’s political front) declared on the 14th that no one should oppose the holding of such a referendum on the independence of Kurdistan and that the Region’s decision was a democratic right. He nevertheless added that such a referendum might not succeed because of the present difficult conditions, the Kurdistan Region being still “under pressure both internal and external” (NRT-TV).
On the 20th Kifah Mahmoud, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani’s media adviser, stated to the Russian news agency Sputnik that the KRG invited all the international organisations to send observers to control the smooth running of the referendum and ensure that it would take place in conditions of legality and democracy.
In Turkey, while 5,000 members of the “pro-Kurdish” HDP are imprisoned, arrests and sentences continue: the government’s craving for repression (since the judiciary has lost any trace of independence) seems insatiable and the country now flouts all limits, including international ones, by arresting members of NGOs and UN agencies.
On June 1st Besime Konca, Member of Parliament for Siirt, arrested in December, released on 3rd May and forbidden to leave the country, then arrested again on May 29th after the Prosecutor had objected, was sentenced to 2 and a half years prison for “membership in a terrorist organisation” — in fact, mainly for having attended the funeral of a PKK fighter at Batman in March 2016. She had already passed 11 years in prison from 1993 to 2004 for political reasons. The next day the HDP spokesman, Osman Baydemir, who is also M.P. for Şanlıurfa, was briefly incarcerated for having “insulted the police”… in 2012! The co-President of the HDP, Figen Yüksekdağ, already sentenced last April to one year’s jail for propaganda for the PKK was again sentenced on the 6th to 10 and a half years in prison for “promoting terrorism” because, in a German radio programme in 2015 she had described the PKK as a “national liberation movement (…) defending democracy and equality”. On the 8th the Adana Court sentenced her to an additional year for “insulting the government” in a speech at a funeral in October 2015. Also on the 8th Nursel Aydoğan, stripped of her office as M.P. for Diyarbekir early in May and already sentenced on 9th May to 4 years and 8 months prison, received 20 months more for “propaganda for a terrorist organisation” following a speech at Elbistan in 2012 at the funeral of a PKK fighter. On the 9th Ferhat Encu, arrested on 4 November (at the same time as the HDP co-Presidents) was sentenced to 4 and a half years imprisonment: 2 years and 9 months for “terrorist propaganda” plus 10 months for “breaching law N° 5442 on provincial administration” for having “organised and taken part in illegal protests” … Encu followed his trial by video from his cell.
On the 5th the Minister of the Interior published a list of 130 Turkish citizens abroad wanted by the Courts who will be stripped of their nationality if they do not give themselves up in under 3 months. As well as the preacher Fethullah Gülen, the list includes the former HDP Member of Parliament Özdal Ücer, two HDP members Faysal Sariyıldız and Tugba Hezer Öztürk. The latter had been stripped of her M. P. office by the Parliament P. on the 14th because of her absence.
On the 15th the CHP (Republican People’s Party, Kemalist, formerly in office now in the opposition to the AKP) started an appeal by its leader, Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu, a “March for Justice” to protest at the sentencing of one of its M.P.s, Enis Berberoğlu, to 25 years in prison for “revealing State secrets”. The 425 km march, from Ankara to Istanbul, which is due to last 3 weeks, began with thousands of people. The CHP had voted for lifting the immunity of M.P.s being sued in the courts and had not much mobilised to defend the HDP Members arrested, but Berberoğlu’s arrest seems to have suddenly revealed to it the gravity of the situation. A former journalist, the M.P. in question had furnished the media (and particularly Cumhuriyet) some videos showing the involvement of Turkish Secret Services (MIT) in the supplying of arms to the Islamists in Syria. Can Dündar, then chief editor, and Erdem Gül, responsible for the paper in Ankara, were sentenced in the same case. After the verdict, Kilicdaroğlu had tweeted: “In this country publishing imfortation on lories filled with arms destined to terrorist groups costs 25 years in prison, but the illegal sending of arms [to terrorist groups] is authorised”. It should be noted that the HDP’s Central Executive Bureau published a communiqué on the 14th condemning Kilicdaroğlu’s arrest.
On the 9th there was the only good news this month for journalists: according to Reporters sans Frontières, the independent, Istanbul-based, French photographer Mathias Depardon, accused of “terrorist propaganda” for having published in France a photo report on the PKK, imprisoned since 8 May at Gaziantep, was released and expelled to Paris. The day before, the RSF officer for Turkey, Erol Onderoğlu, had appeared in Court for the fourth time for “terrorist apologia”, facing 14 years prison… According to RSF, over 100 journalists are imprisoned. In this situation it is only too logical, note many journalists, that Turkey is now aiming at the Human Rights defenders who are denouncing this repression. On June 6th the president of the Turkish branch of Amnesty international, Taner Kiliç, was arrested as well as 22 other lawyers before being 3 days later charged with “membership in a terrorist organisation” — that run by Fethullah Gülen.
It is unlikely that the condemnations of the European Union and the US State Department will have any effect, since the Turkish government no longer even trying to take into account its international legal obligations: on the 15th Aydin Sedaf Akay, a Turkish judge at the International Court of Justice at the Hague, the United Nation’s Principal judicial organ, charged with enquiries into war crimes in ex-Yugoslavia and the Rwanda genocide was arrested on 21st September and condemned to 7 and a half years prison for membership in Fethullah Gülen’s terrorist organisation! This is the first case since the creation of the Court of violation of the immunity of a UN magistrate. Furthermore on 6th June the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at Geneva, Zaid Raad al-Hussein, complained in his speech opening the 35th session of the Council of Human Rights of Turkish obstruction of an enquiry launched on violations in the Country’s Kurdish regions. He announced that a special session and a special report would be devolved upon Turkey in the second week of the meeting.
Relations with Germany are also continuing to deteriorate. Turks and Germans have been unable to reach any agreement on the access by German Members of Parliament to the NATO base at Incirlik, where 250 German troops are carrying out missions of air supply and flights of surveillance against ISIS. During a joint press conference in Ankara on the 5th with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, the German Minister of Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel promised more efforts against PKK activities in Germany an the re-examination of the demands for the extradition to Ankara of 4,500 Turkish citizens … But to no avail — Mevlut Çavuşoğlu replied that it was “possible at this time to visit the NATO base at Konya but not Incirlik”. Following this Turkish decision, Gabriel declared that Turkey should understand that in these conditions Germany would transfer its soldiers elsewhere: “The German Parliament has a Parliamentary army, and expects that German legislators be able to visit the soldiers of the Bundeswehr at any moment”. The Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yıldırım, then announced the cancelation of a meeting with Gabriel because of an “overloaded timetable”. On the 21st a Turkish citizen, arrested in Germany last December, Mehmet Fatih S. (his full name was not published) was charged with spying activities against the Kurdish community. He is accused of having worked since 2013 for the Turkish Secret Services and he is said to have received 30,000€. The enquiry should determine whether he was preparing to carry out assassinations like those of the three Kurdish women in Paris in January 2013.
Another diplomatic crisis concerns Washington’s issuing, on 16 June, of 12 warrants for the arrest of 3 Turkish policemen and 9 members of President Erdoğan’s security who had attacked demonstrators during the Turkish President’s visit to the US. Following this “unacceptable and biased” decision, the Turkish Foreign Minister (who attributed the incident to the incompetence of the US security) summoned the US ambassador in Ankara. However on the 25th Germany informed the Turkish President that those of his bodyguards involved in that incident would not be welcome in Germany during the G20 so he had to alter the composition of his escort…
The military operations against the PKK are continuing, in Iraqi Kurdistan as well as in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey. On the 1st June the crash was announced of a Turkish Cougar army helicopter on the evening of May 31st near Mount Kato, in Şırnak Province, causing the death of 13 troops aboard. The next day the PKK claimed the crash although the Army attributed it to an accident. On the afternoon of the 4th Turkish fighters bombed the region of Bradost, in Iraqi Kurdistan, particularly near the villages of Lelkan, Moslok, Del and Bexnok, provoking the flight of the inhabitant of the nearby villages. On the 9th the governor of Batman Province announced that two soldiers and a civilian had been wounded by the explosion of a vehicle near a gendarmerie. On the morning of 16th, according to the PKK, after several air strikes in the Amêdî region, the Turkish Army entered into Iraqi Kurdistan from the Turkish Kurdistan regions of Culamerg and Çukurca. The PKK announced that in the fierce fighting that followed at least 14 Turkish soldiers were killed. In the evening of the 20th theTurkish Air Force bombed several villages at the foot of Mount Qandîl, wounding civilians in unspecified number. Finally on the 28th and 30th new air raids took place on Iraqi Kurdistan.
On the 7th, suicide commandos hit the Iranian Parliament and then, an hour later, the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeiny, also in Teheran, in an attack that caused at least 13 deaths and was rapidly claimed by ISIS. On the 10th the Iranian police arrested 41 people in connection with these attacks. The semi-official Fars News agency indicated that it seemed that they were Iranian Kurds affiliated to ISIS, that led them. It identified one of them as Serias Sadeghî, originally from Paveh. In its claim to this attack posted on the Amaq News site, the masked men identified themselves in Arabic and Kurdish. The internal origins of these attackers are certainly a source of anxiety for the authorities. Moreover the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran had published a report highlighting the increasing activity of ISIS in Iranian Kurdistan. In retaliation the Guardians of the Revolution struck on the 18th the ISIS bases in Eastern Syria with missiles, which incidentally aroused concern in Israel, which is about the same distance from the Islamic Republic.
Besides the Iranian Security forces are continuing their acts of violence in the country’s Kurdish provinces. On the 13th the regime’s border guards set fire to a large forested zone around two villages, Zal and Choman, near Baneh, burning 2 hectars belonging to local landowners, arousing their anger and protests. On the 15th a young Kurdish porter or kolbar, Sirwan Aziz, was shot in an incident in which several other civilians, including women, were also wounded. A video broadcast on Internet by some of Aziz’s fellow travellers show that he was killed by a shot in the back. On the 23rd the pasdaran (Guardians of the Islamic Revolution) killed 3 Peshmergas of the Kurdish Iranian Komala Party whom they had ambushed in the region of Sanandaj (Sine). Two days after this incident in which, according to the Komala, some pasdaran were also killed or wounded, the police arrested the families of the dead Peshmergas.
On a less tragic note, the Iraqi Shafaq News announced that the Iranian project of building a railway line towards the Syrian Mediterranean coast was going on. The line would link the province of Kermanshah in Iranian Kurdistan to the Syrian port of Lattakieh. The Iranian part of the line should be completed within the coming months. The Iranian Minister of Transport, Abbas Akhundî, received his Iraqi counterpart, Abbas Akhundî, to discuss the project. It should be noted that the Iraqi part of the line, whose course has not yet been fully decided, would have to cross the Kurdistan Region. Iran and the Iraqi Kurdistan Region have regular trading relations, whose volume is constantly increasing. In the first quarter of 2017, with the setting up of automatic controls at the 2 main border posts, the volume of goods transported increased by 20% compared with the previous year.
On Thursday 22nd an international symposium was held at the Palais du Luxembourg entitled “Kurdistan 2003-2017, from Federalism towards Independence?”.
Jointly organised by the Kurdish Institute of Paris and Soran University in Iraqi Kurdistan, the symposium brought together as speakers academics and journalists coming from not only France and Kurdistan but also the United States, Holland, the United Kingdom and many research workers from the Kurdish diaspora.
Besides the members of Soran University, the co-organisers, several lecturers from the University of Sulaimaniyah also made contributions or moderated the discussion as well as researchers from the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS, Higher institute for social research) and the Institut des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO, National institute for oriental languages and civilisations).
Opened by Kendal Nezan, president of the Kurdish Institute of Paris and Nahro Zagros, Vice-President of the Soran University, the symposium went on with four Round Tables, respectively entitled: “Kurdistan seen from within” (moderated by Hamit Bozarslan, EHESS); “An entity in the course of formation” (moderated by Dr. Kamal Yusuf Kolo, Soran University); “Gender, Religion and social policies in Kurdistan” (moderated by Joyce Blau, emeritus professor INALCO); “Kurdistan on the regional and international scene” (moderated by Kendal Nezan). Amongst the speakers can be mentioned Gérard Chaliand, Peter Galbraith (former US Ambassador to Croatia), and Sirwan Barzani (Brigadier General of Peshmergas).
The complete list of speakers and the detailed programme can be consulted and the audio recording of each oral presentation can be downloaded from the Kurdish Institute’s site (http://www.institutkurde.org/conferences/kurdistan-2003-2017/