Turkey continued into February its invasion of the Kurdish Canton of Afrin, and the statements by Elnur Çevik, one of the Turkish President’s advisers, published in the 31 January issue of Daily Sabah, showed what its true objective were: Turkey will not return the area to Damascus but “to its legitimate owners, the Arabs, Turcoman and the Kurds”. In fact, “protecting Turkey’s borders” means the long-term conquest of the territory and its ethnic cleaning… As for the Syrian auxiliaries supporting the Turkish Army, a former jihadist stated on 12th in The Independant that Turkey only used the name of the “Free Syrian Army”, now virtually dead, to hide its recruiting of former members of ISIS...
On 1st February Mr. Erdoğan announced that nearly 800 “terrorists” had been killed since the beginning of the offensive, and Government’s News agency, Anatolia, reported the capture of a 3rd village to the North of the enclave, in the Bulbul district. This makes 20 villages and 27 areas now under Turkish control, quite a modest result for the second largest army in NATO fighting against local militia virtually without any heavy weapons... On the 2nd Turkey’s Islamist auxiliaries showed their real military value by broadcasting on the social networks a disgusting video of a blood-soaked and mutilated corpse described as a Kurdish female fighter with the nom de guerre “Barîn Kobanê”, who had taken part in the fight against ISIS at Kobanê and was apparently killed in fighting near the village of Qarnah near Bulbul.
The next day 2 Turkish soldiers were killed, one of them on the Turkish side in an attack near Kilis, the other on the Rojava side. This brings the Turkish losses to 9, then to 14 when the YPJ women’s units destroyed an armoured car near the village of Hiftaro, in the same area where their comrade in arms Barîn Kobanê fell. The YPG Press agency announced the destruction of 3 Turkish tanks and armoured cars in the villages of Heftar, Mamela and Shaltari thanks to anti-tank guided missiles. The following day Erdoğan declared that he knew who had supplied these missiles to the Kurdish fighters but that it was too soon to reveal the name of the country. But the Turkish media, under orders and loyal to the prevailing rhetoric — both ultranationalist and islamist – that has accompanied the invasion, had already accused the United States… On the 5th the President of Turkey accused the latter of having arranged for the YPG to receive by plane- and lorry-load thousands weapons, including heavy ones... A convoy of reinforcements is said indeed to have arrived at Afrin but, in fact, it was a YPG convoy coming from the East of Rojava and travelling through areas held by the Syrian Government. The latter probably decided to allow this passage after the 3rd, when the Turkish-backed rebels of Idlib shot down a Russian plane… Further South the Turkish Army uses just this allegedly “de-escalation zone” of Idlib (where the Syrian and Russian Army have launched a major offensive…) to complete the encirclement of Afrin. There, the Turkish Army, still in the 6th, announced that rocket and mortar fire had caused 1 death and 6 injured the day before as they were setting up a 4th observation post.
Indeed, the Turkish air strikes on Afrin were stopped after the Russian fighter was shot down – perhaps because the Syrian regime had set up an antiaircraft system in Aleppo that could also protect Afrin? In any case they were resumed on the 9th after a phone conversation between Putin and Erdoğan, while Turkey opened a new front to the Southwest, from Hatay towards the town of Jandaris. The Afrin authorities denounced the heaviest strikes since the start of the Turkish operation, aimed at civilian targets: water pumping stations, schools, dams, or dispensaries including in the town centre. On the 10th two Turkish soldiers were killed when a helicopter was shot down over Hatay and the Army announced that 3 others had been killed and 5 wounded in another attack. These 11 Turkish soldiers constitute the heaviest day’s losses since the start of the offensive. For a fuller total: according to the Turkish Army 31 deaths amd 143 wounded, while Erdoğan announced 1,141 “terrorists” neutralised. In an assessment published on the 12th, the SDF announced 98 of their fighters killed for 862 Jihadists and Turks, and declared they also shot down 2 helicopters and 1 drone. Furthermore the 668 air strikes on the region killed 180 and wounded 413 civilians, while the Turks, against all likelihood, deny having caused any civilian casualties...
On the 13th the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said that new Turkish air raids caused at least 1 civilian death, near Afrin’s principal hospital and 1 Kurdish military senior officer. On the 16th the SOHR confirmed the testimony of the Director of that hospital, Jiwan Mohammad, who reported that 6 men from a village West of the city, Sheikh Hadid, had arrived in the Emergencies department with their pupils dilated “breathing with difficulty, their bodies covered with burns” following an air or artillery bombing by Turks or their auxiliaries. No international enquiry on this probable use of chemical weapons has yet been conducted.
On the 18th the SDF for the first time ever, claimed having carried out a night attack on Turkish soil — namely on Hatay, a place where Turkish troops were concentrating. The Turkish media reported that 2 soldiers and 5 Syrian fighters had been wounded by a mortar shell aimed at a police station in the Kirikhan District. On the same the female co-president of the Afrin executive Council, Heve Moustafa, announced that discussions were ongoing with Damascus for the deploying of troops in the frontier zones to prevent Turkish advance. On the 12th already the YPG commander in Afrin, Sipan Hamo, had told AFP that the arrival of Syrian troops was “no problem” for him and on the 25th January the Rojava administration had requested this deployment but without result: while denouncing the “Turkish aggression”, the regime wanted as price of its military intervention the return of its institutions to Rojava. On the 19th the Syrian agency Sana announced that some pro-government “people’s forces” could enter “in the next few hours” in the besieged by region “to support the inhabitants against the attacks of the Turkish regime”. The Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, replied that in Afrin, Manbij and the East bank of the Euphrates (taking a shot at the US there), there was no one who could stop the attack against the YPG… In the afternoon of the 20th, according to the SOHR some hundreds of pro-regime fighters deployed in the zone under attack by the Turks, immediately targeted by artillery fire (Sana), the Anatolia Press agency announced that “the pro-regime terrorist groups (…) retreated about 10 km from the town after some warning shots”. On the same day, while the SOHR said that Turkish attackers were still confined to 49 localities near the border, Erdoğan announced to the AKP Members of Parliament the next siege of Afrin’s city centre.
On the 22nd, again following an agreement between the YPG and Damascus, government forces entered 8 quarters of East Aleppo cotrolled by the YPG for joint control. On the 26th Turkey announced it had deployed in the areas that it controlled the Special Forces police, in preparation for the urban battles in Afrin. The government spokesman Bekır Bozdağ indicated it had acquired experience of “anti-terrorist struggle in urban areas” during 2015 in Turkey’s own Kurdish towns…
Turkey’s invasion has aroused many demonstrations of solidarity denouncing the dictatorship and the silence of the “international community”. On the 3rd, 500 people marched in Nantes, 2,000 Kurds and Alevis at Strasbourg, near the Council of Europe, 2,100 in Paris, 1,000 at Bordeaux. At Rouen about a hundred Kurds met in front of the “Palais de Justice” (the principal courthouse). At Lyon the police prevented about sixty pro-Erdoğan demonstrators from approaching the pro-Kurdish demonstration. In Bonn a Kurdish demonstration took place on the 4th and in Beirut on the 5th. On the same day, the Pope Francis, who was officially receiving Erdoğan at the Vatican, asked him to stop the military operation and gave him a medal representing “the angel of Peace strangling the demon of war (…) symbol of a world based on peace and justice”… Several dozen Kurdish demonstrators were kept in a garden nearby by the police, where two of them were arrested after some scuffling.
On the 6th, hundreds of demonstrators coming from other parts of Rojava, Qamichlo, Kobanê or Hassaké, marched to Afrin, carrying branches of olive tree to the sound of Kurdish music. On the 10th fresh demonstrations took place at Albi, Lyon (this time without any pro-AKP interference). At Brest, however, the demonstration was attacked by some pro-Erdoğan bullyboys, who wounded 5 Kurds, 2 of them seriously. The next day a spontaneous pro-Kurdish demonstration brought together 130 people from whole Britanny. In Switzerland 1,200 marchers composed of people from 17 different nationalities though mainly Kurds living in the country, left Lausanne on the 12th and arrived at Geneva on the 16th where they had a rally in front of the United Nations building. In Turkey the HDP called for an end to the attack on the 22nd and denounced Ankara’s “lies” about there being no civilian victims. In Iraqi Kurdistan a delegation from the Erbil Parliament composed of M.P.s from the KDP, Gorran, the PUK, the Communist Party of Kurdistan and the Islamic Union (Yekgirtû) left for Afrin to express its solidarity and bring medical aid.
The international community has shown virtually no reaction to Turkish aggression: silence, mere condemnation of principle, appeal for restraint — even approval. The French President who, at the end of January, had warned Turkey against any thought of invading Syria, declared himself “reassured” by Ankara’s explanations. The US Secretary of State, James Mattis declared on the 3rd that he “supported 100%” Turkey, “the only NATO ally confronted with an active insurrection within its own borders”. In the German Parliament the invasion was condemned on the 1st by all the parties, and one M.P. of the CDU (Angela Merkel’s party) proposed a discussion in NATO on the subject. He also welcomed the decision taken on 25th January to suspend the supply of tanks to Ankara, following their use against Afrin. On the 7th, following a demand of its M.P.s who had observed a minute’s silence for the civilian deaths in Afrin, Sweden demanded the stopping of the operation and threatened to withdraw its Ambassador. The Foreign Minister delayed his visit to Turkey indefinitly. The Rojava representative in France, Khaled Issa, called, in a press conference, on the French President to “do more”, suggesting the sending of French or international on the spot observers and calling on France to demand “the total ending of the agression and the withdrawing of Turks” – just a repeat of the repeated appeals of the Rojava since the attack started...
Regarding the civilian victims, UNO estimated the population of the besieged area at 323,000 inhabitants, 192,000 of whom need humanitarian aid and 125,000 people displaced within Syria, expressed concern on the 5th about “serious humanitarian consequences”. On the 8th the Afrin authorities estimated that the Turkish bombing had deprived 40,000 schoolchildren of education by forcing the closure of 300 schools. Turkey rejected all the concerns as “unfounded” and repeated having made no civilian victims. Yet on the 23rd , the Human Rights defence organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused it of not having taken sufficient measures to protect civilians, declaring that the offensive had caused the death of 26 civilians, 17 of which were children. Other estimates set civilian victims at 120. On the 24th after the UN Security Council had unanimously adopted a resolution demanding a humanitarian and immediate ceasefire of a month in Syria, Turkey refused to apply it to its own operations since, according to them they were aimed at terrorists. The appeal of the 26th by the French President that the UN’s humanitarian truce should also apply to Afrin changed nothing… On the 28th Amnesty International speaking of “frightening testimonies” reported “indiscriminate attacks and “blindly bombarding” by the Turkish Army in Afrin and to a lesser extent of the Kurdish fighters in Azaz. The inhabitants of Jenderes, Rajo and Maabatli in particular testified to the blind shelling for hours on end, while the Turkish Army had promised to guarantee their protection: “I’ve never seen such a downpour, the bombs were raining down on us” declared a woman.
Ready to go even further, Erdoğan unceasingly repeated that the Turkish offensive would be extended “right up to the Iraqi border”, and in particular to Manbij, where American troops are stationed. He demanded their withdrawal in the 6th, threatening that otherwise they would be targeted. The Turkish-American argument swelled when General Paul Funk replied, on the 13th, that they would react if they were attacked. Speaking to the Turkish Parliament Erdoğan threatened the Americans with an “Ottoman clout” before calming down to receive the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the 15th. The meeting was held in quasi secrecy, since without an official interpreter and only the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, present. It gave birth to a Turkish-American “working group”, which will examine the Manbij question. The Turks hope to secure joint control of this town with the Americans, after evicting the Kurds…
These high flown diplomatic manoeuvres are taking place against the backdrop of a renewed tension between Washington and Damascus — a week after an air raid by the anti-ISIS coalition during the night of the 7th had killed over 100 pro-regime fighters near Deir-Ezzor, whe were part of a column advancing to SDF positions, which also contained troops of the American Special Forces. Washington is also accusing Damascus of having used chemical weapons at Idlib and in Eastern Ghouta, where 211 civilians, including 53 children had perished in four days according to SOHR… It must be recalled that on the East bank of the Euphrates, the last refuge of ISIS, even as Afrin is being besieged by the Turks, the SDF are continuing the fight against the Jihadists. In the fortified village of Al-Bahra that has been fought over for several weeks, a double suicide bomb attack caused dozens of deaths in the 10th while another at Qamishlo in the 18th killed another 4.
Also hunting down the PYD leaders abroad, Turkey announced that, on 12 February, a prize of 1 million dollars for the arrest of Salih Muslim, PYD former co-president, against whom it has issued an Interpol warrant as “commander of a terrorist group”. On the 24th Muslim was arrested in Prague, where he was taking part in a conference on Syria supported by the Americans. Ankara officially demanded his extradition on the 25th. However the court decided on the 27th to release him on condition that he committed himself to remaining in the European Union and attending court whenever summoned. This “unacceptable” decision aroused Ankara’s fury – they described it as “very clear support for terrorism”. The Czech Foreign Minister replied that as they had not interrupted the extradition proceeding they had not breached any international judicial agreement...
Since it was launched on 20th January, the Afrin invasion has carried over into Turkey’s domestic politics to the great advantage of Mr. Erdoğan and the AKP. Firstly because it has led to a real “honeymoon” with the extreme-Right ultra-nationalist MHP, which will support Erdoğan and the AKP for the local, Parliamentary and Presidential elections in 2019. With furthermore the power to dismiss Parliament, to declare a State of Emergency, promuIgate decrees having the force of law, to form his cabinet or appoint senior Civil Servants of the judiciaty or the Army without parliamentary approval, Turkey would become the “democracy” of which its president dreams.
The operation also provides a pretext for enlarging an already fierce repression. On the 2nd , 13 new people were arrested for having supported on the social networks an article published the previous week by the Turkish Doctors’ Union (TTB) that dared to evoke, in connection with Afrin, “the problem of public health” and ended with an appeal of “No to war, peace now and everywhere”. The AKP, killed two birds with one stone, because amongst those arrested was Ali Erol, co-founder of Kaos GL, one of the principal Turkish organisations for defending the rights of LGBTI . The Islamist ideology of the AKP is clearly in the forefront for the attack on the “deviants”. Thus, on the 10th Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, the Foreign Minister, speaking before students about Afrin, accused those who criticise the Afrin operation because of some civilian victims of “sharing the Marxist, communist and atheist ideology” of the YPG… As for the 11 members of the TTB, arrested on 30 January, they were accused, inter alia, of “legitimising the actions of a terrorist organisation” and of “praising crimes and criminals” (concerning people calling for peace, the most grotesque motive being “incitement to hatred”)
According to the Minister of the Interior, in a communiqué of the 12th February, since the launching of the operation, 666 people who opposed it have been arrested, 474 for “terrorist propaganda on the social networks” and “192 for having joined demonstrations”. On the 19th, a week later, there were 2,100 taken into detention and 713 additional arrests. According to HDP, since July 2015, 3,300 of its members have been arrested and over 350 more after the 20 January, for their opposition to the invasion of Afrin.
The repression aimed at the “pro-Kurdish” HDP has also been going on, the authorities seeking essentially to prevent it from holding its 3rd Congress on the 11th by arresting as many of its members as possible at the last minute. On the 6th the HDP Member of Parliament for Şırnak, Ferhat Encü, held in detention like Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ since 4th November 2016, was stripped of his staus of M.P. after being condemned to 4 years and 7 months jail in October 2017 for “terrorist propaganda” in favour of the PKK. He had committed the crime, among others, of helping the families of the Roboskî massacre (where he had himself lost a brother and 9 close relatives) to submit the case to the European Human Rights Court in August 2016… In the inverted justice presently current in Turkey, he was charged, together with 31 people whose relatives had been victims, with attempted murder of the district’s governor. The latter had come to the scene after the massacre to offer condolences, which in the circumstances was deemed a provocation. He was released on the 15th under judicial control.
Early on the 7th the police arrested in Istanbul 31 Kurdish public figures, who were accused of preparing a bomb attack for the PKK. This group included some officials of the HDP or other associated parties, like Can Memiş, member of the Central Committee. On the 9th at least 29 HDP delegates were arrested at Istanbul, Izmir and Diyarbakir, including the spokesman of the Peoples Democratic Congress (HDK), Onur Hamzaoğlu, the co-presidents of the Green Left Party, Naci Sonmez and Eylem Tuncaeli and the Vice President of the DBP (the Kurdish component of the HDP), Hacer Ozdemir, whose co-president, Mehmet Arslan, had been arrested a few days earlier for having criticised the attack on Afrin. The whole of the HDP delegation from Kocaeli was arrested together.
In spite of all this, the HDP did hold its Congress in the 11th , in Ankara, with some 800 delegates who elected as co-Presidents Sezai Temelli and Pervin Buldan, the latter is the female Vice-President of the HDP group in Parliament. As from the 12th the Ankara Public Prosecutors Office opened an enquiry against Ms Buldan as well as the M.P. and film director Sirri Süreyya Önder, as usual for “terrorist propaganda” and “incitement to hatred” because they had made some remarks against the invasion of Afrin and of the presence at the Congress of a picture of the PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan. On the 13th the former HDP co-President Serpil Kemalbay, was arrested for having criticised the invasion of Afrin. Incarcerated for a week, she was released under judicial control on the 20th with interdiction to leave the country (AFP). On the 14th Selahattin Demirtas, incarcerated since November 2016 appeared for the first time to present his defence at his main trial for “terrorist activities”. Most of the journalists and foreign diplomats who came to attend the audience, organised inside a penitenciary complex, were prevented from entering. The accused denounced the use against him of official photos taken during the negotiations with the PKK, in which he played the role of mediator and that the government had distributed to the media “to incriminate other members of the HDP and myself”. On the 16th his demand that he be released was rejected and on the 20th the court decided he should remain under arrest. The next audience should take place on 11th April.
On the 27th two more HDP M.P.s were stripped of their parliamentary status following their judicial condemnation, bringing the number to 9: Ahmet Yildirim, Vice-president of the parliamentary group (condemned for “insulting the President” after having described him as a “caricature of a sultan”); Ibrahim Ayhan (condemned for propaganda in favour of a terrorist organisation for having paid tribute to the memory of a Kurdish fighter). On the same day two other HDP members, Olcay Öztürk and Halef Keklik, were arrested in Ağrı alongside Vural Kaya, director of the Association for Human Rights, and Mehmet Emin İlhan, a former HDP Member of Parliament for Ağrı was arrested in Van in the context of the same enquiry. In Şenoba, near the Iraki border, three DBP members, including one of the mayors of the town, were also arrested.
Journalists, accademics and representatives of civil society are also targeted by judicial investigations. On the 1st Taner Kilic, president of Amnesty International Turkey was taken into detention only a few hours after being released on bail. His lawyers, who had not been informed, later discovered that the Public Prosecutor had appealed to another court against the court’s decision… At Hatay on the 13th the police searched the house of the local leader of the Human Rights Association (İHD), Mithat Can (73 years of age), at 6 am, before jailing him — he had read, on the 23rd a communiqué criticising the invasion of Afrin. Other İHD activists, local leaders of HDP and of several Trade Unions, including the DISK, and several lawyers were arrested in Hatay on the same day. On the 16th 5 people in prison since 2016 were sentenced to life imprisonment, in connection with the attempted coup d’État of 15-16 July 2016, including 3 journalists, Ahmet Altan, formerly chief editor of the daily paper Taraf, Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak. On the other hand the correspondent of Die Welt, Deniz Yücel, was released after an intervention by Angela Merkel.
On the 23rd, 3 lecturers of Istanbul University received a 15 months suspended sentence for “terrorist propaganda” for having signed the open letter of January 2016 entitled “We will not participate in this crime”, which attacked the massacre of Kurdish civilians by the security forces and called for an end to this State violence. They are the first condemned among the 148 first on trial among more than 2,000 signatories.
On the 28th the governor of Diyarbakir province refused a demand to authorise the celebration of International Women Day, which had been filed by the Diyarbakir Womens’ Platform, the local Doctor’s Chamber, groups of educational and scientific workers and the KESK Trade Union Confederation of the civil service staff (Kurdistan 24). Citing the State of Emergency, the governor forbade any public meeting, rally, or march and even declared any press statement unlawfull…
The repression of Kurdish culture is also going on. On the 15th the police illegally confiscated 3,000 books and 3 computers from the Diyarbakir publisher Aram (the law authorises seizing books from bookshops but not from publishers). Most of the confiscated books had been forbidden in a trial held in August 2017. On the 17th two wedding singers, Ihsan Acet and Inayet Sarkic, were arrested “for terrorist propaganda on behalf of s terrorist organisation”. During the evening’s wedding celebrations they had sung some Kurdish songs about the civilians killed at Afrin. The bridegroom’s father was also charged.
On the 28th, the Special Reporter of the UN Human Rights Coucil, Nils Melzer, expressed concern about the use of torture in Turkish prisons to extract confessions. Many detainees denounced the use of ill-treatment such as beating up, electric shocks, deprivation of sleep, insults and sexual aggression. UNO criticises the government for failing to take any measures to prevent these practices, the Prosecutors rejecting any complaints or appeals by using a presidential decree that exempts public officials from penal responsibility for acts carried out during the post-coup State of Emergency.
Apart from the invasion of Afrin, acts of violence and military operations have been continuing in the Kurdish regions and in Iraqi Kurdistan, where on 1st February 2 soldiers were killed and 2 others wounded in attacks attributed to the PKK. Acts of violence even concern the deads: on the 3rd the HDP announced that, since mid-2015 at least 13 cemeteries in which Kurdish fighters had been buried have been destroyed. Moreover PKK members are not the only targets, since in September 2017, at Bingöl, the tomb of a Peshmerga volunteer, Sait Curukkaya, killed in the fight against ISIS in Mosul, has also been destroyed. In reply to the protests against the destruction, two months ago, of a whole cemetery containing 267 tombs of PKK members, Erdoğan approved it, even quoting a verse of the Quran to tell that these “unbelievers” will go to Hell… On the 13th the PKK announced the death of several Turkish soldiers near Zakho in Iraqi Kurdistan during an attack that it did not claim, speaking about “unknown authors”. On the 14th the Governor of Diyarbakir announced the imposition of a curfew “until further notice” on 176 villages and hamlets in Silvan, Kulp, Lice and Hazro districts to enable operations against the PKK. On the 21st according to the Turkish Army, the explosion of a home-made bomb un Hakkari Province killed 2 soldiers and wounded a third.
Abroad, the call for a Jihad at Afrin launched on the 16th in Hatay by Ali Erbaş, the Head of the Diyanet, the Supreme Turkish Sunni authority, was taken seriously by the Dutch government, which ordered an enquiry. The call has, indeed, been echoed by thousands of mosques in Turkey, but also in Europe, including in Holland and its possible influence on young people of Turkish origin has been taken seriously. On the same day several tens of thousands marched in Strasbourg non only to demand as every year the freedom of Öcalan, but also to protest against the invasion of Afrin (L’Alsace).
Throughout February the discussions, at last started the month before between the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and the Central Government in Baghdad, have neither enabled the re-opening of the Kurdistan airports (shut since 29th September) nor an agreement about the budget: at the end of the month, Baghdad had still not accepted the re-opening of Kurdistan’s airports and maintained its unconstitutional cut in Kurdistan’s share of the budget from 17 % to 12.6 %.
After Iraq had seized the excuse of the 25th September referendum on independence to launch a military offensive on the disputed territories, seizing in particular the Kirkuk Province and so depriving Kurdistan of half of its oil revenue, the KRG tried to concentrate on diplomacy rather than military confrontations. Faced with an Iraqi Prime Minister who considered that time was on his side and launched one sanction after another against the Kurdistan Region, the Kurdistan Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, chose to use a method of indirect diplomacy, taking advantage of several international forums to meet foreign leaders and urge them to put pressure on Baghdad. Those leaders who had taken a negative attitude towards the Kurdish referendum of 25th September have in general supported Kurdish requests for a settlement along the lines of the 2005 Iraqi Constitution, whose spirit as well of letter it became increasingly clear that Baghdad was breaching…
So, during the international conference on the reconstruction of Iraq, which was held in in Kuwait from 12 to 14 February and where a Kurdistan delegation was present, the French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian insisted on the fact that “During the efforts of reconstruction, no region and no community should be left aside” then adding “I am thinking particularly of Kurdistan that has born more than its share of the burden, and whose sacrifices call for solidarity”. On the 14th the General Secretary of the United Nations, António Guterres, who was also present at the Kuwait Conference, also called on the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to resolve their differences. M. Le Drian after the Conference visited Baghdad to meet his Iraqi counterpart and then visited Erbil, a city from which he had reiterated his stance that the negotiations berween the KRG and the central government must be based on the Constitution. His visit was the first by a high level political delegation since the 25th Sptember, and Nechirvan Barzani thanked him for having broken the political and diplomatic embargo on Kurdistan. Other tried to support Kurdish demands like the British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, who, in a phoned message to the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, told him of his hope for a rapid ending of the international embargo in flights to the two airports of the Kurdistan Region. A delegation from the KRG also attended another international forum which took place in 16th to 18th February, the 54th Munich Conference on Security. There Nechirvan Barzani held a meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider Al Abadi, to tacle their differences and the means of overcoming them – the third since 25th Septeber. The delegation from the KRG also held meetings with representatives from many other countries.
Despite these discussions a high official or the Erbil International airport told AFP that the central government had extended for 3 months, until May 31, the ban on direct flights between Kurdistan and foreign countries, which was due to expire on the 28th. The spokesman of the Iraqi Prime Minister’s Office confirmed this decision. The next day the President of the Kurdistan Security Council, Masrour Barzani, commenting on this news from Washington, which he had visited to meet his American number, H. R. McMaster, and leaders of the State Department, described this prolongatiom as a “political decision”. He declared that Baghdad and Erbil had indeed “reached an agreement about the opening of the airports” adding that the Iraqis found “every day a new excuse”. Mr. Abadi declared that the airports would be opened only when the Kurds would have accepted to transfer the control to the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority, a condition regarding which the Kurdish airport officials of Erbil and Suleimaniyah had already several times declared it had been accepted by Kurdistan Region...
Regarding the State Budget, the Kurdish members of the Baghdad Parliament confirmed on the 13th their decision to boycott the parliamentary sessions on this subject. Ahmed Haji Rashid, the Head of the finance Commission of the Baghdad Parliament, described the second version of the draft budget sent to parliament by the government as “illegal and unconstitutional”, declaring “We might submit a legal appeal before the Federal Court”. As for paying the KRG’s civil servants, after the 12th new teachers’ demonstrations had taken place at Sulaimaniyeh, to protest against the delay in paying wages, the KRG Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, announced the beginning of the audit of the lists of civil servants by the central government, using the KRG biometric system, adding he hoped that this would make the process easier.
Since Baghdad took back control of the disputed territories and the consequent withdrawal of the Kurdish Peshmergas, there has been a reappearance of insecurity, inter-community violence and banditry as well as a resurgence of ISIS (Daech) Jihadist organisation. Kirkuk Province, despite the declarations of its interim Governor on its security and stability, has experienced, since October, a real wave of stealing ad assassinations. An Iraqi military communiqué even announced an operation of the Iraqi Army and the Hashd al-Shaabi militia against ISIS to the East of Touz Khourmatou in co-ordination with the Kurdish Peshmergas — which was denied on the 4th by the KRG Peshmerga Ministry (Rûdaw). In the middle of the month the Hashd operating against ISIS near Hawija suffered over 27 deaths in a night ambush in the 18th by Jihadists, who they succeeded in defeating. In the city of Kirkuk itself some organised gangs stole, in the week of the 19th, 49 electric transformers with their cables, causing new power cuts. On the 27th a terrorist was shot just as he was trying to blow himself up infront of the HQ of a pro-Iranian militia unit. At Daquq, an improvised explosive device blew up wounding 20 civilians.
In this context controversy has arisen regarding the treatment of Jihadists by the KRG. On the 6th the KRG announced that it had about 3,500 ISIS prisoners in detention. According to the official responsible for KRG’s internarional relations, Dindar Zêbarî, they were mainly Jihadist activists from Hawija, who had chosen last October to durrender to the Peshmergas rather than fall into the hands of the Iraqi forces. Zêbarî also made the point that 350 individuals arrested in the regions of Debes and Kirkuk, who had confessed they were members of ISIS, had been transferred to prisons run by the Asayîsh (Kurdish security forces) after the Iraqi Forces had entered Kirkuk. According to Zêbarî, the CICR and UNO had received lists of the names of the detainees but had not informed their families. The Human Rights organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed its worry about the fate of these 350 people, “disappeared” since the recapture of Kirkuk by the Iraqi firces. On the 9th HRW accused the Kurdish Asayîsh of having carried out, between 28 August and 3 September, mass executions of their prisoners, following testimonies according to which a number of corpses was found killed by a bullet in the head, which does not correspond to a death in fighting. Lama Fakih, HRW Assistant-director for the the Middle East, asked in a communiqué for “an urgent and transparent” enquiry from the “Iraqi and Kurdish authorities” to allow if necessary to bring proceedings against the authors.
Anti-Kurdish acts of violence also continued in the disputed territories. On the 8th a group of armed men opened fire on some young Kurds in front of a shop of the town of Khanaqîn, in Diyala Province, killing 7 of them and wounding 4 others. On the 20th an officer of the Asayîsh was assassinated in Kirkuk in front of his house, in the Hourriyah quarter.
An exhibition offering a very complete retrospective of the work of the American photographer Susan Meiselas, the largest one ever made in France, has just opened at the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris. It will run until 20th May.
Our readers who know Susan Meiselas because of her magnificent book Kurdistan, In the Shadow of History, which she devoted to the history of Kurdistan in collaboration with Martin van Bruinessen, will also find there her work in Nicaragua, for which she had first become known when she began working for the Magnum Agency. In 1978, Ms. Meiselas received the Robert Capa Gold Medal for her “exceptional coverage and reporting” in this country where the Sandinista revolution had driven out the regime of the dictator Somoza. However, never satisfied with a single interaction, she returned to Nicaragua 25 years later to show on he spot some enlargements of her 1978 photos – a project characteristic of her personal commitment on a long time span with her subjets of enquiry, never considered just as photographic subjects but as living beings with whom she entered in relationship.
Her book on Kurdistan is thus born of her commitment, in 1991 with the Kurdish victims of the Anfal operation of Saddam Husein’s Army in Iraqi Kurdistan. She followed the forensic medical examiners exhuming the victims from mass graves, photographed them and entered in contact with the families still seeking their relatives. Sometimes the photos found in the pockets of the deceased allowed their identification, allowing the relatives to begin their mourning at last. In order to help the families in their search for information, Susan Meiselas began to place on a web site the reproductions of unidentified photos. This was to become the “aka Kurdistan” website that is still found on line (http://www.akakurdistan.com/) in relation with Kurdistan, In the Shadow of History. At first published in 1997, this couvage was to have a second edition in 2008, including translations in Sorani Kurdish and in Turkish and including a new postface written by Martin van Bruinessen. As with Nicaragua, Susan Meiselas returned to Iraqi Kurdistan to expose her photos, which were also the subject of an exhibition at the Hotel de Ville de Paris (Paris City Hall (as distinct from the Mairies — Town Halls — in each of the Paris’s 20 districts) in 2004, and in many European capitals.
To provide an account of the retrospective that has just opened, the Jeu de Paume Museum published, together with the Fondatió Antonio Tapiés and Damiani, a collection of articles commenting on the photos: Susan Meiselas, Médiations, in which other artists explore and comment her work. Extracting from the 4th cover: “Covering a great number of themes and countries — from war to the problems of Human rights, of cultural identity, to the sex industry [Susan Meiselas] uses photography, cinema, video and often archive documents to explore and construct without a break, tales in which she involves her subjects.
Finally we must point out the recent publishing by the Xavier Barral Publishing House of En première line (“On the front line”), which presents photos from different periods of Susan Meiselas – including some of those about Kurdistan, but covering much beyond that since her very first works like 44 Irving Street in 1971 (when she was still a student making photos of her flatmates), up to her work on on police reports giving evidence about violence to women in San Francisco in 1992… Meiselas takes the words in the first chapter of Médiations, entitled, characteristically “The Exchange”: “From the start [she tells us ] my work was founded on the idea that account should go beyond the framework of the picture”. And further on she specifies “The subject must accept my presence for me to feel justified. This will to exchange, founded on acceptance and respect, is really felt all through her work.