Turkish threats to Rojava are increasing. Having massed troops opposite Kilis, on the Turkish side of the border at the end of June and in July and between Jerablus and al-Bab on the Syrian side, Turkey has been shelling Afrin all week, according to the Syrian Centre for Human Rights (SCHR), hitting a dozen villages, injuring a dozen civilians. According to the YPG a woman and her two children were killed and 7 young teenagers wounded in the Shahba region. Recently promoted to Canton status by the Rojava authorities and just South of the area controlled by the Turks and the forces they control, between Jerablous and Azaz, Shahba forms a strategic corridor between Afrîn and Kobanê, vital to the Turks as well as the for Rojava.
The Dogan news agency describes the Turkish attacks as “retaliations” to shots fired against the Turks from Mount Parsa. While the YPG is calling on the international coalition to act and put an end to these attacks, the Turks have announced that they wish to take control of Tell Rifaat, about 10 km South of Azaz and then to besiege Afrin, 20 km to the West. In Afrin, a demonstration on the 5th against these attacks on brought together tens of thousands of people while the YPG described the Turkish deployment as a “declaration of war” that was in danger of provoking confrontations. The Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Numan Kurtulmuş, replied that Turkey had not declared war bit that it “would respond to any hostile moves by the YPG. On the evening of 7th the Turkish Air Force bombed Rojava and Sinjar (in Iraq (Rûdaw). More than ever there is Turkey is a world of difference between Turkey’s statements about “preserving Syria’s territorial integrity” and its own invasion of Syrian soil ….
The “war of words” is also waged by the pro-AKP daily Sabah, which announced that the Ankara-backed Syrian rebels were ready to carry out anti-YPG operations and that the Russians could ensure their air diver. On the 8th, President Erdogan who was chairing the G20, declared that Turkey would never authorise the formation of a Kurdish State in North Syria and would not hesitate about “using its right to self-defence” if its security was threatened by “the support and arming of terrorist groups and by the setting up of terrorist pockets near our borders”. On the 17th, the Anatolia news agency unhesitatingly published an article entitled “The USA is increasing its presence in by supporting the PKK/PYD in Syria” in which it revealed the location of several American and French Special Forces units, this putting them in danger, according to the Pentagon.
At the diplomatic level, since Turkey has failed to alter American support for the SDF tried to negotiate with Russia an agreement that would enable it to attack Afrin. On the 2nd, the Turkish President met the Russian Defence Minister, Sergueï Shoïgou, at Istanbul, together with the head of his Intelligence Service (MIT), Hakan Fidan and General Hulusi Akar. This meeting aroused some concern in Rojava, fearing the possibility of a Russo-Turish “exchange” should Moscow wish to secure the evacuation of rebels from Idlib to areas in Syria that Ankara already and could then direct towards Tell Rifaat, a town at present held by the YPG …
Was this the result of these contacts? On the 13th Bahjat Abdo, who leads the defence of Afrin stated on Kurdistan 24 that the Russians had asked the Canton’s authorities to let the Syrian Army enter it to stop the Turkish attacks. The reply was that the regime had been driven out of Afrin 5 years earlier and that there was no reason for it to return … the reason for the changes in Turkish lines after their negotiations with the Russians could be wither Turkey being obliged to make the rebels it armed it “swallow” the concessions it made there or else due to its obsessional distrust of the Kurds or that dissensions had appeared between the Turkish Army and the these back-up troops it supported. Indeed, on the 6th it was learnt that Ankara had disarmed a Kurdish militia that was opposed to the YPG and even jailing its leader for 3 weeks. The latter was accused by Ankara of having “used the militia to increase its influence in the region”
Confrontations between the SDF and Turkish-backed rebels also took place at the middle of the month in Aleppo Province, where rebels of the Ahl al-Diyar lost about 15 of their fighters. Finally on the 31st, some Turkish militia crossed the border with bulldozers near Kobanê before having to retreat following warning by the YPG.
Thus it is under the constant threat from the Turks that the Rojava Cantons and the SDFhave continued their fight against the 2,500 jihadists who are anched in the town of Raqqa, which the SDF, for the first time, entered from the South. Taking the al-Hal Market. On the 3rd, the women’s units from Sinjar (YJS) announced they were taking part in the attack side by side with the YPJ “to take part in the liberation of the women (Yezidis) kidnapped by ISIS”. The next day the US Command announced that the SDF, this time attacking from the East, having succeeded in making 25m breaches in the Rafiqah wall surrounding the city. Then, on 17th, the SDF announced it had taken back another quarter, Yarmouk, At the Southern limits of the town. According to the SCHR the SDF do not yet control the whole of this quarter and held about 35% of the city. According to Nasrin Abdulla, Commander of the YPG on the 27th, 45% of the city was freed, a figure confirmed by the SCHR. However the next day one of the principal YPG commanders, Sipan Hemo, stated that they might interrupt the operations if the Turkish attacks against Rojava continued: certain units like the Jaish al-Thuwar coming from Shabha, had had to abandon the protection of their own lands, threatened by the Turks.
These advances at Raqqa are taking place in a civil war context, in which at Astana as in Geneva, the outside powers are negotiating more and more openly the zones they influence, over the heads of the Syrians whatever their tendencies. After two days of virtually unsuccessful negotiations, on the 4th and 5th at Astana, a representative of the opposition considered that the agreement on the “de-escalation zones” essentially represented “the strengthening of the Russian and Iranian influence in the field (Reuters). The US and Russia announced a cease fire agreement for the South and Southwest of the country after the Trump-Putin meeting at the G20. Negotiated with the help of Jordan, the agreement should take effect on Sunday 9th at midday, Damascus time, controlled by the Russian military police. However it was only on the 26th that the Russian Army announced it had deployed 4 battalions of military police to ensure security in the two “de-escalation zones”.
Speaking at Geneva in the 11th, to open 5 days of negotiations, the Special UN Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, pointed out that these cease fire agreements would make help to civilians easier and might enable the stabilisation of the country but warned that they could only play a temporary role if one wanted to avoid partition. De Mistura also stated in an interview with Sputnik that the Syrian Kurdish should take part in the process of drafting the country’s future constitution and that the country’s Kurdish community could not be ignored — a dig at Turkey that excluded from the start the PYD from any negotiations — but neither UNO nor its Special Envoy had the means for imposing anything in the field. So long as ISIS remains a threat the SDF enjoys the support of the US-led coalition, but what will come after? ? Ilham Ahmed, co-president of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political expression of the SDF, attempted from Kobane on the 25th to answer this question in an interview given to Associated Press: “Once Raqqa is won back from ISIS” she declared, the United States should “continue its action in the country to guarantee its stability until its policy can be decided”. She added that we cannot limit ourselves to fighting ISIS in the military field but, to avoid the reappearance of similar groups, we must build a democratic system. In Ms Ahmed’s opinion the civilian Councils set up by SDF in the liberated towns could serve as models for Syria’s other regions. She made the point that the composition of Raqqa’s Council will change after the total eviction of ISIS to include tribal chiefs who had not previously been represented as their regions are often still under jihadist control. On 23rd the assistant commander of the anti-ISIS coalition, the British General Rupert Jones,in a press conference rightly praised the Raqqa civilian Council after meeting some of its members who had “done a remarkable job to providing humanitarian aid got displaced persons”.
It should be noted that on the 11th the SDF women’s commander, Rojda Shiya, announced the formation of a battalion of women recruited from Syrian Arab women throughout the country. This worried the jihadists, for whom nothing is more terrifying than to fall in battle against women. It will also worry Turkey who will see in this the spreading of the Rojava “terrorist centre” to non-Kurdish women.
On the 29th, the Hawar news agency announced that the Constituent Assembly of the North Syrian Democratic Federation (the self-proclaimed autonomous federal structure that will include Rojava) had approved the electoral law and that its Council had decided deadlines for the Federation’s elections: 22nd August for municipal elections, 3 November for local administrations. The elections for representatives to the Democratic Conference of the Peoples of North Syria and the regional Councils will be held on 19th January 2018.
The AKP authorities continue to persecute and convict the HDP elected representatives, M.P.s and mayors alike. On the 3rd the vice-President of the HDP parliamentary group, Ahmet Yıldırım, rceived a suspended sentence of to 1 year and 2 months jail and banned from any political action for “insulting the President”. He had stated in a press communiqué about the curfew on the Cizre quarter of Şırnak “the precious Padishah in his palace and all those around him will be taken to court. I say dlearly that Yayip Erdogan is not any cleaner than Tansu Çiller” His lawyers have appealed.
On the next day the trial of the former co-President of the HDP, Figen Yüksekdağ, opened in Ankara. She is accused of “terrorist propaganda” on behalf of the PKK during the October 2014 protests at Turkey’s the closing of the borders during the Jihadist attack on Kobanê. Clashes with the police had caused dozens of deaths at the time — the HDP imputed the violence to the police. The international delegation that came to attend the session was forbidden to enter the court as the lacked “authorisation by the minister of the Interior”. Facing a 30-year prison sentence, she was greeted as she entered the court with slogans of support. Other “proofs” presented against her are her speeches as HDP co-President, her support for an “autonomous and democratic administration” (written into the HDP’s programme) and the use of the term “massacres” for the army operations in the Kurdish provinces. UNO has mentioned the possibility of “war crimes” — will Turkey charge its General Secretary with “propaganda for a terrorist organisation?
On the 7th the new parliamentary regulations, approved by the AKP and the MHP, were ^resented. They foresee a fine for any M.P. using the term “Kurdistan” in a parliamentary session. On the same day Selahattin Demirtaş, the other imprisoned co-President of HDP, refused to be taken to court in handcuffs. His lawyers left the court in protest. He is accused of “public humiliation of the Turkish government, judicial organisation, Army and police” on the basis if statements made on social networks. In one of the statements being used against him, dated last April, he said he had found the words that exactly defined the present AKP policy “The fundamental base of the AKP government is to create an atmosphere of fear make it felt by everyone. During such periods fearing the government and the power it exercises is very human — but do not forget that courage is equally human and that the only way not to transmit this fear to our children is to act with courage”.
On the 15th the HDP Member of parliament Abdullah Zeydan, imprisoned since last November was sentenced to over 8 years jail for “propaganda for a terrorist organisation” and links with the PKK. Then on the 17th the HDP Member for Sanliurfa, Ibrahim Ayhan, arrested last February, received 15 months jail for the same charges. In 2015 he had shared on the social networks some photos of PKK members: Ismail Aydemir, killed in Dersim (Tunceli), and Aziz Güler, killed by ISIS, with the following message: “Rebel commander in Dersim, Baran Dersim [Aydemir’s pseudonym) and resistance fighter in Kobanê, we cherish your memories”. Also sentenced for the same charges: Abdullah Zeyda, M.P. for Hakkari, to 8 years and 45 days prison and Çağlar Demirel, M.P. for Diyarbakir to 7-and a half years. Two other M.P.s Dilan Tasdemir, vice-co-president of the party and Adem Geveri were arrested, one at Ataturk Airport of Istanbul and the other in Ankara.
A new arrest warrant was issued on the 19th against the co-mayor of Diyarbakir Firat Anlı, released the 14th but the Public Prosecutor opposed the release. The two co-mayors of de Diyarbakir, Firat Anlı and Gültan Kışanak gad been incarcerated on the 25th and arrested in30th October for “terrorist propaganda” … On the 27th living abroad after proceeding had been started against them they were stripped of their parliamentary offices because of their absence and risk being deprived of their nationality.
Amongst the rare acquittals is that of Leyla Zana on the 11th at Diyarbekir for “insufficient evidence” for the charges of “membership of a terrorist group” and “terrorist propaganda”. Awarded the Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament, she has already served 10 years prison for similar charges and for having added a few Kurdish words while swearing her oath as M.P. Another release was the HDP Member for Siirt, Besime Konca, following her appeal against her two and a half year sentence for “terrorist propaganda”.
On the 25th about ten HDP Members of Parliament launched a campaign of protest in the Diyarbekir Park against the repression. They plan to remain in the park for 24 hours a day for a week. Hundreds of police and armoured cars and water cannons have surrounded the quarter and forbidden access to the shady parts of the park so as to force the protesters to remain in the sun. The HDP spokesman, Osman Baydemir, told the journalists “This police blocking shows up the country’s situation. A political party that won 70% of the votes (in this city) cannot hold a meeting in the park(…) Fascism can only be stopped by democratic struggle. (…) without violence or animosity”. The HDP envisages organising demonstrations until 4th November, the anniversary of the arrest of its two co-presidents.
Human Rights defenders are also targeted. On the 17th the Istanbul Court ordered the incarceration before trial of six of them, including the manager in Turkey of Amnesty International, Idil Eser, and two German and Swedish trainers, all arrested in the middle of a training session in Amnesty’s premises. They are accused of helping an armed terrorist group. Four of them were released and forbidden to leave the country before their trial. On the 24th the trial began of 17 journalist of the opposition daily Cumhuriyet, against whom the Prosecution has called for up to 43 years prison for “supporting a terrorist organisation”. The 324=page charge sheet accuses the paper of being controlled by Fethullah Gülen. The paper had published evidence of the military aid provided by the Turkish Intelligence Services (MIT, Millî İstihbarat Teşkilatı) to the Syrian Islamists.
The CHP (once the Kemalist regime’s sole party), which had, however, voted for the law lifting the parliamentary immunity and having started the witch hunt against the HDP members of Parliament, has finished by realising the consequences of that vote. This late awakening has resulted, on 14th June, in the sentencing to 25 years jail of the CHP Member of Parliament, CHP Enis Berberoğlu, who had provided Cumhuriyet with the video incriminating the MIT. On the 4th, the 20th day of the “March for Justice” organised to protest at this sentence, its leader, Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu, appealed to the European Human Rights Court against the decision of the Electoral Commission to take into account ballot papers that had not been validated in last April’s referendum. The day before the march had been joined by representatives of HDP on their way to the prison in which Figen Yüksekdağ is being held. The latter called from her cell for a common opposition struggle. In reply the Turkish President made his favourite accusations against his CHP opponents — “acting in in concert with terrorist groups” and “taking the road to Qandîl [and] Pennsylvania”.
To this month’s repressive record should be added 7,395 civil servants, teachers, police and army officers fired from their positions by a new decree issued to commemorate the attempted coup d’état of last July, which was also celebrated in Turkey on the 15th and 16th by several “national unity marches”. In fact the number of civil servants fired in the course of the year amounted to 110,000.
The acts of violence continue: fighting between the Turkish Army ad the PKK and attacks by the latter. Two local AKP leaders were shot: Orhan Mercan at Lice (Diyarbakir) in the evening of the 30th June (an action claimed by the PKK) and Aydın Ahi at Özalp (Van) on 1st July. Also on the 1st, the Turkish Army announced it had eliminated by air strikes 5 Kurdish fighters who were preparing to attack an Army base in Mardin Province, as wel as 5 others in battle at Bingol, 4 others in Iraqi Kurdistan and another 3 in various provinces. On the same day the Mayor of Mergasur, a town in Iraqi Kurdistan near the Turkish birder, stated that the fighting had given rise to a fire that was still not under control. On the 3rd, according to several Turkish official sources, the PKK had carried out several attacks: one remote controlled bomb killed a soldier at Cukurca (Hakkari), another had wounded two “village guards” at Çaldiran (Van), one of which later died in hospital, and a third attack killed two labourers working on an access road to an army base.
The Ministry of the Interior, for its part, announced that the police had killed 55 “terrorist” the previous week. In the morning of the 7th a remote-controled bomb exploded without causing any casualties as a convoy was passing by. This convoy was carrying the district governor of Baykan (Siirt) — an action claimed by the PKK on the same day. On the 17th a bomb exploded near Yukçekova (Hakkari) as an Armyconvoy was passing, wounding 17 soldiers. On the 13th the governor of Istanbul announced the arrest of 44 suspects ad the TAK attacks last year, including one for theattack on the Istanbul stadium that had caused 46 deaths in December and another in the attack on a police convoy that caused 11 deaths in June.
Iraqi Kurdistan was hit all through the month: in the 12th Turkish artillery shelled from 2 to 10 a.m. zones near Amedî, suspected of harbouring PKK fighters, forcing the residents to flee from their homes. On the 15th the Anatolia news agency announced air stikes had killed 4 Kurdish fighters near Basyan. Other strikes took place against sur Qandil on the 29th, causing a fire on Mount Kurazhari (Shiladze district) and on the evening of 30th North of Dihyk (equipment damaged and one person wounded). Finally on the evening of the 28th four picnickers were wounded near de Zakho by artillery fire
The Turkey-European Union fracture (and at bilateral level between Turkey and several EU members particularly Germany) continues to grow wider. On 6 July the European Parliament called for the suspension of discussion on Turkey’s membership — passed by 477 against 64, with 97 abstentions. Indeed the vote was only non-binding report on Turkey and the the reporter Kati Piri recommended this decision in the event of the reforms wanted by President Erdogan being carried outm but the message is clear. Another sign of tension — four days earlier the European United Left Group had nominated Selahattin Demirtaş, co-president of the HDP and imprisoned for the last 8 months for the 2017 Václav Havel Prize, arguing that his fight in favour of the rights of the Kurdish people. This Human Rights prize, attributed every year since 2013 by the Parliamentary Assembly of the council of Europe in partnership with the Václav Havel Library and rhe Charter 77 Foundation went last year to the young Yezidi activist Nadia Mourad. She won it for drawing the International Community’s attention to the sexual slavery imposed ISIS on its captive Yezidis.
On the same day, in Germany, the ANF news agency, close to the PKK, reported the discovery of a second agent of the MIT (Turkish Intelligence Service). A first spy, Mehmet Fatih Sayan, had recently been arrested. Like him, Mustafa Karadaş, discovered by phone tapping, was charged with preparing for the assassination of Kurdish activists on German soil (he had a list of potential targets). The embarassing point is that he seems to have served as an informer to the German Intelligence at the same time … As partners in NATO, Germany and Turkey are led to exchanging information — hence an ambiguous situation: the two countries also exchange reciprocal accusations of espionage … This could explain why the German press has make little mention of this discovery: the situation is tense enough between the two allies. Since, following repeated refusals by Turkey to allow German members of parliament to visit troops stationed in the NATO base at Incirlik, the latter began as of the 9th, to withdraw from it. The previous month theBundestag endorsed the decision to move them to Jordan next October (Reuters). On 15th Turkey once again forbade visits by German members of Parliament to the base at Konya just a few days before a planned visit. The Chairmen of the German Parliament’s Defence Commission, Wolfgang Hellmich (SPD) declared that as the Konya setup was a NATO base, this fresh Turkish decision was becoming ““really a a NATO problem …”.
Another issue of tension is the arrest on 5th July f the German Human Rights activist Peter Steudtner together with 5 other Human Rights defenders, including Amnesty International’s manager in Turkey Idil Eser. Steudtner, as a specialist in non-violent actions, was taking part in the training of such a group in the Amnesty International premicies in Istanbul. The German Foreign Minister demanded his release on the 18th, a demand described by Tyrkey on the 20th as “unacceptable” and an attempt tp interfere with the Turkish judiciary system. Following these statements the German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, warned German citizens no to go to Turkey, pointing out that “any German going to Turkey could be arrested”. Alongside this the German weekly Bild published an article saying that Germany was going to suspend the sale of arms and military cooperation with Turkey.
This tension had side effects on the legal level: on the 13th a Stuttgart court, having sentenced a person accused of membership of the PKK, propaganda, collecting funds and recruiting for that organisation mentioned, in the clauses explaining its sentence, some attenuating circumstances, the fact that the accused had “personally suffered ill treatment from the Turkish State before he left the country, because of his Kurdish ethnic origins”…
Tensions are also in danger of increasing with Sweden, where the Green and Left members of Parliament announced on the 10th that they had jointly filed a complained to the International Office of the Ministry against the Turkish President and Prime Minister accusing them of “genocide, crimes against Humanity and War Crimes” in military operations in Turkish Kurdistan and the acts of violence they caused. Naming Binali Yıldırım and several other Ministers, this complaint is the first ever filed in Sweden against a Head of State while still in office. It was made possible by a law passed in 2014 allowing Swedish courts to pass judgement on crimes against humanity regardless of who were their authors or the place where they were committed. Should the court decide to open a preliminary enquiry, it could result in warrants being issued for the arrest of the Turkish President. The Green M.P., Carl Schlyter, has stated that he hoped that other European members of parliament would follow the Swedish example — the impossibility of travelling in Europe could oblige Mr Erdogan to alter his policies.
These problems, which are accumulating have any concrete results? So far this has not been the case — at least not so far, whereas after the Army coup of 1980, the EU had frozen relations with Turkey. So far European aid continues to arrive, and the amount of up to 4.45 billion is planned from now till 2020, to be added to the 200 millions already paid.
Last April, in reply to the following question: “Europe has already given ,ore than 6 billion to Turkey —whose fault it it?” Europe 1 published on its web site the follow answer (the figures are still true valid): “It is true that Turkey has also received a little more according to the figure the European Commission has given us. They have received seven billion euros have already and six billion more are due to be paid to them in the next three years, There are two main sources: three billion promised for managing the refugees, which was agreed last year, of which a third has already been paid, and the pre-membership aid instrument, which Turkey has been receiving since 2002 and which were beefed up when negotiations began in 2005”. (http://www.europe1.fr/emissions/le-vrai-faux-de-l-info2/combien-leurope-a-t-elle-deja-donne-a-la-turquie-3305624).
On 10th July the Iraqi forces, while announcing they had taken back the whole of Mosul, made an additional step towards a post-ISIS full of uncertainties. Kurdistan seems to be moving towards agreement on the referendum and the reactivation of Parliament — in an economic context that is still as painful for the population. On the 6th President Barzani reaffirmed that he would not retreat on the referendum whatever the reactions by Baghdad or the neighbouring countries …
Arriving in Mosul on the 9th, the Iraqi Prime Minister congratulated his troops in their “total victory”. However there was a bitter after-taste to this: 9 months to take back a city that the jihadists had conquered in 2014 in a few days, a field of ruins, thousands of dead and 900,000 displaced persons. After taking the al-Shifaa quarter the Iraqi troops had advanced despite ISIS suicide counter-attacks, sometimes using disguised women mingling with the fleeing civilians. One of them had made 15 victims near the al-Nuri Mosque in the morning of the 3rd creating extreme tension between the troops and the inhabitants. Four days after Abadi’s declaration of victory, fighting was continuing round pockets of Jihadists with helicopters flying overhead and while an American General stated that there were probably still 200 jihadists in the city.
On the 15th a military parade celebrating the victory took place … in Baghdad. On the 17th ISIS attacked a village to the Northwest of Mosul Province, killing 5 people including the village head and capturing 5 others. The fate of ISIS’s leader, Abou Bakr al-Bagdadi, remains uncertain: on the 11th the Syrian Centre for Human Rights told Reuters he was dead according to unofficial jihadist sources but on the 17th Lahur Talabani, the PUK head of security, stated that in his opinion he was still alive and living South of Raqqa, adding that had experience of clandestine life.
Accusations of Iraqi abuses during the battle of Mosul have rapidly increased. On the 1st, witnesses declared to Human Rights Watch (HRW) that they had been present when civilians flees Mosul were beaten up and had heard officers boast od illegal executions. The NGO demanded an independent enquiry. On the 11th, Amnesty International in its turn suspicions of violations of Human Rights by Iraqi troops and their American NCOs by using their weapons in a way that uselessly endangered civilian lives. According to Médecins sans Frontières the human cost of the final attack was “devastating” for the town’s civilians. On the 27th HRW published a report accusing a unit, trained by American soldiers, of illegal executions (https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/07/27/iraq-us-trained-forces-linked-mosul-war-crimes). They demanded that the US suspend any assistance to the 16th Division pending an Iraqi enquiry.
Certainly the recapture of Mosul does not mean the end of fighting. According to security sources the 1ihafist organisation still has 4,000 activists in Iraq plus over 3,000 paid members amd controls three towns: Tel Afar, 77 om East pf Mosu ed near the Syrian borders, al-Qaim, to the West of Anbar and Hawija, South of Kirkuk. This last has become its principal base in central Iraq from which ot sends incessant attack towards Touz Khourmatou and tries to infiltrate Kirkuk. On the 3rd the Peshmerga’s Ministry demanded that the coalition take part in the attack on Hawija but it seems to want to liberate Tell Afar first and them the Ramadi region. On the 5th, three jihadists who had infiltrated from from Hawija were arrested in Kikuk before being able to act. On the 14th the police arrested a woman suspected of being an ISIS cadre and on the 17th, although a jihadist attack caused 5 deaths the security services arrested 5 suspects of Hawija origins plus 35 others South of the town. West of Touz Khourmatou, a town of mixted Kurdish/Turkomenian population, the Peshmergas began at the end of June to dig a 43 kn long trench along the front to protect themselves. One of them was killed by a sniper near the village of Zarga, targeted during a night attack on the 3rd. On the 28th the explosion of a pickup parked in front of a restaurant on the Kirkuk-Baghdad road, near Touz Khourmatou wounded 3 people. It is still mot know whether it was a remote controlled bomb or a suicide attack. On the evening of 29th an attack on Zarga caused 2 deaths and 2 wounded. Since 2014the Peshmergas have suffered 1,745 killed, 10,069 wounded and 63 missing in the war against ISIS.
At the political level, the referendum on self-determination, set for 25th September continues to provoke reactions: on the 4th the Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr called for it to be postponed or even cancelled; on the 10th the Turkish President re-iterated his opposition, the former governor of Mosul, Athîl al-Nujaïfi, demanded its cancellation in that province where the Hashd al-Shaabi are very numerous, out of fear of “negative consequences”. The Iraqi Prime Minister described the referendum as “unconstitutional” but Russia let its differences be heard: Sergueï Lavrov declared in the 24th on an interview with Rûdaw that it corresponded “with the right of the Kurdish people to express their aspirations”.
On the 9th a delegation of the referendum Commission led by Masud Barzani and including memebers of the KDP, PUK, some Turkomenians, some Christians and some Yezidis flew to Brussels to promote and explain the referendum to the European officials as well as to strengthen bilateral relations with EU leaders. On the 12th Masud Barzani argued before the European M.P.s that Baghdad had not observed the 2005 Constitution and that all the Iraqi governments, both Sunni and Shiite had “had treated the Kurds with hostility” asking the countries of the EU of they did not officially support the referendum at least “to remain neutral”.
While most of the political parties in Kurdistan support the principle of a referendum as conforming to the right of the Kurds to self-determination, the issue of the reactivation of parliament remains a serious point of disagreement. The KDP and Masud Barzani are sometimes accused of using that vote in their interest — as was said on 1st July by Kawa Mohammed, head of the Gorran block in the Iraqi Parliament. The PUK, through the voice of one of its leaders, Mahmoud Sangawî, reiterated its position on the 8t : support for the referendum but conditional to the reactivation of Parliament. This position was reaffirmed on the same day by the joint Gorran-PUK leadership, then on the 13th by the PUK Political Office. While the PUK had sent members to the meeting of the Referendum Preparatory Committee, namely Qubad Talabani, the Depity Prime Minister, and Najmladdine Karim, the Governor of Kirkuk, they went by virtue of their offices, not as party representatives. On the 11th Gorran and the Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal) expressed a similar position. They also demanded that the November elections be advanced and be held on the same day, or the day before, the referendum (or that the referendum date be brought back) so that Parliament could be reactivated. On the next day Gorran and the Kurdistan Islamic Union (Yekgirtû) published a joint communiqué expressing the same position.
On the 19th a decree signed, by Masud Barzani on the 12th, was officially published setting the parliamentary elections on 1st November. This aroused the opposition of those political leaders who had demanded that the two elections coincide, as had been made in writing by several members of the independent High Electoral Commission, who also argued that this would enable the budget to be reduced …
On the 22nd, the NTV Channel announced that Gorran had chosen Rauf Osman as Chairman as the new President of the General Council and on the 25th it elected 7 members of the Executive Committee and a new General Coordinator, Omar Saïd Ali, a former Peshmerga and a member of the PUK until 2009. As soon as elected Ali reiterated the importance Gorran attached to the existence of a Parliamentary system in Kurdistan. The next day a KDP delegation, led by Adham Barzani, Masud Barzani’s cousin, visited Gorran at Suleimaniyah. At the subsequent press conference they stated they had come to congratulate Gorran on the election of its new leaders and to express the KDP’s determination to “resolve their differences together”. On the 27th , according to Rûdaw the PUK announced that the Kurdistan Parliamwent should be reactivated before the 10th August and that “no more time must be lost” in organising a general meeting of all the parties that had decided on the referendum together.
However the agreement is far from fully reached. On the 30th the Referendum Committee demanded that the political parties work together and put an end to the blockage on the question of the Parliament in the next two weeks to enable the Council to start preparations for the referendum. On the 31st, however, Gorran’s coordinator of external relations, Hama Tawfiq Rahim, replied that that his movement could not send a representative to the Committee until parliament had decided on the question, adding that the referendum should be discussed in Parliament and that it was not up to the political parties to made decisions on the Region’s laws …
Amother aspect that is rarely mentioned in the media is the growing exasperation of the population faced with an economic situation that is not improving and reduces the legitimacy of the referendum that is seen as being far from their daily lives. On the 31st, a demonstration took place before the Erbil offices of the KRG to protest against the austerity measures. Amongst the demands is one that the arrears in salary be credited to a special account that could enable government services to be paid (e.g. electricity and water). Pressure from neighbouring countries is also arouse anxiety: Iran is suspected of having cut the water of rivers that flow to Kurdistan to express its opposition to the referendum. On the 26th the owner of the NRT channel, Shaswar Abdulwahîd Qadir, even announced that he’d wage a campaign of “NO for the time being” (nexêr le êsta da) recommendingpostponement to secure more international support and also to enable national reconciliation between the parties and the creation of a unified Peshmerga force. The next day a group of members of parliament file a complaint against him.
On the 30th the Referendum Committee announced that a delegation was going to Baghdad before August 10th for discussions about the referendum. Iraq is worried that the aim of the referendum is more about the disputed territories than independence … On the 19th , Salah Dilo, the KDP leader in Kirkuk stated that a Referendum Preparatory Committee would rapidly be set up in that city insisting that the referendum would be held in Kirkuk at the same time as in the other town of the Kurdistan Region and those Kurdish territories outside the regions administration;
We were sorry to hear that on 31st July the journalist Chris Kutschera, born in 1938, a very knowledgeable and friend of the Kurdish people has departed at Guéret following a long illness.
All the people who are interested in the Kurds know Chris Kutschera’s name. His book, published in 1979 entitled The Kurdish national movement had, like the one edited by Gérard Chaliand The Kurds and Kurdistan the first works in the French language to give the Kurds their place in the world. They are probably still the best introduction in French to the long history of the Kurds’ political struggle for their rights. Chris Kutschera then give us a sequel to The Kurdish national movement entitled The Kurdish Challenge or the crazy dream of independence before managing, in 2005, the collective work devoted to the crimes of Saddam Hussein, The Saddam Hussein Black Book.
This journalist who has also written many articles for the Monde diplomatique, Confluences Méditerranée, Politique internationale, Les Cahiers de l’Orient, passed over 40 years travelling all over Kurdistan, journeys, which have enabled him to meet practically all the leaders of the various different Kurdish political organisations. He regularly posted articles on his web site (https://www.chris-kutschera.com/).
Many of his works and articles have been translated into Kurdish, in both Soranî and Kurmacî dialects — but also into English, German or Dutch ¿ and of course into Turkish, Arabic and Persian
While Bernard Kouchner had agreed to write a preface to The Saddam Hussein Black Book it was Danielle Mitterrand who wrote one for the Kurdish Challenge and in her own contributing article paid tribute to Kutchera’s competence: “Thanks to his personal knowledge of the principal actors of contemporary Kurdish history and his many travels in the region for over 20 years, Chris Kutschera has information drawn from the best sources”.
The book in which Kutschera has collected all his photo archives in 2007 remains Stories / Kurdistan / Histoires. Unknown to many, Chris Kutschera is really a pseudonym for two people, Paul and Edith — Paul writing the articles and Edith taking the press photos — Kurchera being the maiden name of Paul’s mother. It is Paul who has left is recently. In Stories / Kurdistan / Histoires, published in three languages, French, English and Kurdish (Sorani dialect) that can be seen in all the libraries of Iraqi Kurdistan, can be seen pictures of all the Kurdish leaders and officials with whom the couple has rubbed shoulders, from Mollah Mustafa Barzani to Jalal Talabani, including Adnan Muftî and the poet Hajar Charafkandi … Flipping through these pages of photos (some of which go back to the 60s) also means reading the captions, which are often biographies of the people show. These short captions are often very personal, and show, reading between the lines, the deep relations that linked “Chris Kutschera” throughout their lives with the Kurdish people. Here is an example, that accompanies a photo of Franso Harîrî: “A Kurdistan Christiann he has always bee very close to the Barzanis. He is mayor of Galala during the 70s but I only photographed him in 1974, on the Korek front, where he was in charge of military operations. With a smile on his lips he has just announced on his field telephone that his Peshmergas have just shot down a Mig of the Iraqi Air Force. I only discovered 20 years later his passion for football. Becoming governor of Erbil, he became responsible for the town football team which has just won the Iraqi Cup. He is overjoyed and is poses with the medals that the players have slipped round his neck”,
Not only do these short captions enable us to see and literally to live those people who have become friends of Chris Kutschera but they reveal the kind of deep and empathic relations that Chris Kutschera established with his “contacts” and so show the kind of sensitive and humane person that he was.