Carried out in totally undemocratic conditions, the 23rd June presidential elections gave Mr. Erdoğan the victory he was seeking. He was elected President of Turkey with 52.55% of the votes cast, whereas his party the AKP secured 42.5% in the parliamentary elections. He thus escapes once more the charges of corruption that remain in suspense. Bearing in mind the enormous means employed, however, his score seems a trifle narrow and that of the AKP/MHP alliance far from total: despite the scandalous campaigning conditions, the “pro-Kurdish” HDP is top in 11 provinces and scores 2 points more than the 10% threshold for being represented in Parliament. Consequently it got 67 seats, 25 held by women, making even better than its previous score (59 seats, 16 of which held by women) thus beating the MHP. At Diyarbekir its supporters came out into the streets to celebrate this victory. The CHP (Kemalist) came second, but only with 22.63%, and its presidential candidate, Muherrem Ince, secured 30%. The HDP’s presidential candidate, Selahattin Demirtaş came 3rd with 8.36% obtained from the depth of his prison from which he was able to make some public statements by phone.
To say the conditions were undemocratic is to under-rate them: polling day under “State of Emergency” (extended 7 times since July 2016), media censored, but anyway already 90% pro-Erdoğan: according to the figures of the Turkish Audio-visual Council’s itself (RTÜK), from 14 May to 22nd July, Mr. Erdoğan and the AKP enjoyed 181 hours of broadcasting time (including 66 on the Kurdish language channel TRT-6) as against 32 minutes (with 0 mins on TRT-6) for the HDP and Mr. Demirtaş!
Moreover the campaign was punctuated by the attacks of MHP fascist gangs as well as sometimes by the bully boys of some AKP candidates. According to a report by its judicial Commission, the HDP was subjected to 57 attacks since 18th April (date when Erdoğan announced early elections) during the few election rallies it had been able to organise, and over 200 of its members arrested added to the dozen of its M.P.s and about 60 of its elected mayors and over 5,000 of its cadres and activists held in temporary detention since 2016.
Furthermore, the new electoral law, allowing ballot papers not stamped by a legal polling station to be taken into account — amounts to legally stuffing the ballot boxes – in the constitutional referendum of 2017, Erdoğan won with just a 1.4 million-vote majority, but 2.5 million unstamped ballot papers were counted as valid...). The law also forbids the presence of civil and non-partisan observers in polling stations, while authorising police and army forces to enter: soldiers and “village guards” indeed entered armed into several polling stations in Kurdish provinces (Mezopotamya).
Expecting to lose many Kurdish votes, Erdoğan held a meeting on the 3rd at Diyarbakir to try and recover them. Accusing the HDP of being “mosques burners”, he boasted, without even blushing, “the closeness of the State with the people” and the “peace unheard of since 40 years” (RFI). But seeking above all the extreme Right votes, he mainly surfed on the wave of post-Afrin nationalism and, using a non-stop war-like rhetoric, threatened operations in Northern Iraq against Qandil (the mountainous PKK base), Sinjar and even Makhmur, if Baghdad did not “cleanse” these “terrorist” areas. While air strikes were continuing, the ground forces entered some 30 km into Iraq, getting some 50 km from Qandil. On the 11th Mr. Erdoğan declared at a meeting: “We will drain the terror land marsh of Qandil”. No matter that no Turkish government has ever been able to “clean” the PKK out of this region with its formidable landscape. It is more a matter of limiting for some time its operations in Turkey by controlling its lines of supply routes for infiltration — an effect immediately perceptible by the electors… Mr Erdoğan also appealed for a fast sentence against Demirtaş, whom he constantly accuses of having blood on his hands, even going so far as to suggest that he deserves the death sentence, if it were re-established (AFP). On the 2nd the latter filed a complaint against the Turkish President for “violating the presumption of innocence” — a complaint that evidently has no chance of succeeding in Erdoğan’s Republic of Fear.
During the campaign the CHP line on the Kurdish question seems to have slightly moved. Its candidate, Muharrem Ince, had committed himself, if elected, to forming an inter-party Parliamentary Commission on the issue (Hürriyet) before promising, in a meeting at Diyarbakir, a Kurdish language education system (which earned him attacks from Erdoğan). On the 19th the CHP Vice-President, Gürsel Tekin, declared that a vice-presidency could go to a Kurd (Rûdaw). This declaration must, however, be seen in its context — the attempt to attract the votes of Kurds disappointed with the AKP.
During the campaign and even until after the proclamation of the results, the main target of the violence from AKP and MHP gangs was the HDP, while the police often refused to intervene (as at Gaziantep) when it didn’t support the attackers Thus, at Ceylanpınar, the police, armed with assault rifles, water cannons and armoured cars, stopped and searched the HDP’s electoral convoy before attacking the meeting by the HDP co-president, Sezai Temelli, on the excuse that it was an “illegal rally” (all the necessary authorisations had been obtained). In Istanbul, members of the HDP attacked by an MHP gang in the village of Huseyinli were taken away with the fascists. At Karacabey (Bursa), when a group shouting racist slogans and “Allahu Akbar” attacked an HDP electoral stand, the police let them do it before arresting... an HDP member. At Buca (Izmir), the police attacked with tear gas a fast-breaking dinner (iftar) organised by HDP youth and arrested 14 of them on the pretext of hearing anti-government slogans. On the 14th at Kocaeli, 7 members of the HDP were wounded when nationalists attacked their election stand. Although they had a video of the attack, the police are in no hurry to start an enquiry. On the dame day, 4 HDP members doing a door-to-door canvass were attacked and wounded at Malatya (ANF). On the 17th, at Büyükada (one of the “Prince Islands” near Istanbul), several CHP members were stabbed while trying to prevent a group of fascists from attacking an HDP electoral stand (SCF). According to an HDP member present the police sided with the attackers. On the 23rd, the eve of the vote, the Ankara police arrested 400 HDP leading members, including those responsible for polling stations, pretexting “planning of provocative actions” during the voting. At Van, the police dispersed an HDP meeting with water cannons (internet videos).
After the voting, the HDP premises at Esenler, Espentepe, Sultanbeyli and Umraniye in Istanbul, as well as in the Keçiören district in Ankara, were attacked. At Esenler, a crowd shouting slogans against “the bastards of Apo” (a nickname for Öcalan) and “Every Turk is a soldier” demanded that the HDP remove its election banners (Ahval). On the 27th the HDP’s co-president, Pervin Buldan, reported that she had been threatened by the Minister of the Interior, Süleyman Soylu, following the murder of an AKP electoral controller at Doğubeyazıt — making the HDP responsible, he told her on the phone that she “could no longer live here” (Cumhuriyet).
The most serious of all these attacks was the one that took place at Suruç, where several members of a pro-HDP family, after being wounded by gun fire, were lynched in their hospital rooms by the supporters of the AKP candidate, İbrahim Halil Yıldız, apparently on the latter’s orders. A preliminary HDP report, published on the 16th, describes a first quarrel in the bazaar on the 12th, between pro-HDP shopkeepers and AKP supporters. The latter returned with arms on the 14th and opened fire, wounding some shopkeepers who refused to withdraw the Kurdish colours (yellow, red and green) from their shops. What happened then is frightful — the AKP supporters found the wounded ones in their hospital rooms and lynched them. This attack has been confirmed by a local CHP official, Servet Gören. This incident caused 4 deaths and 12 wounded. On the 16th the police arrested 19 people, including a HDP candidate. An HDP delegation, which visited the hospital, noted that no evidence of the murders had been saved and in particular the videos had disappeared. The AKP candidate again drew attention to himself on Election Day by visiting several polling stations accompanied by his armed bodyguard. He reportedly drove away the HDP assessors before obliging some electors to vote for Erdoğan and AKP... (Mezopotamya)
The repression continued throughout the campaign. On the 2nd the police at Van arrested 7 musicians and actors simply because they had performed a Kurdish play (SCF), and the artist, Şêrko Kanîwar at Diyarbakir (ANF). The next day the satirical cartoonist Nurî Kurtcebe was jailed for one year on the charge of “insulting the President”. On the 6th the police at Istanbul attacked a demonstration of sacked civil servants demanding their reintegration, jailing an HDP candidate, Sema Uçar, who was on the scene. On the 11th the journalist Berzan Güneş of the Mezopotamya agency was jailed for his publications on the social networks. On the 12th the former HDP Member of Parliament for Şırnak Ferhat Encü was sentenced to 10 months jail for “insulting the government”. This sentence was finally commuted to a fine. On the 13th, Nagehan Alçı, a pro-AKP journalist, announced she had been sentenced to 105 days jail for having said that the torture in the Diyarbakir prison had been one of the reasons for the PKK’s growth… On the 19th the singer of the Kurdish group Koma Rosida was arrested for “propaganda for a terrorist organisation” — she had used the word “Kurdistan” in a song during an HDP meeting at Ağrı (T24). The HDP Vice-President, Sezgin Tanrıkulu, was arrested for the same charge (Ahval). On the 23rd the German-Kurdish singer Hozan Cane was arrested for terrorism on her return from an HDP meeting at Edirne: in her documentary on the genocide of the Yazidis by ISIS in 2014, she appears in the company of PKK fighters PKK (Turkey Purge). In the 29th the HDP Member of Parliament Leyla Güven, just elected at Hakkari, was sued for “terrorist activities” because of her criticisms of the Afrin operation. First released for lack of evidence, she was re-arrested the same day after the Public Prosecutor had opposed her release before a higher court (SCF). On the 30th former employees of the Russian news agency Sputnik announced that the latter had closed its Kurdish web site at Turkey’s demand (Ahval)…
Turkey has also tried to prevent several foreign observers to be present for the elections. The OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) had deployed over 350 and the opposition parties and Turkish NGOs had also invited guests. Turkey refused entry to several OSCE observers coming from Sweden like Jabar Amin, a Swedish Green M.P. of Kurdish origin invited by the HDP, whose electronic equipment and passport were confiscated (Kurdistan 24). Other observers were harassed, forbidden to enter polling stations and even jailed until the polling stations had closed, like the French Communist Senator Christine Prunaud and two activists from that Party at Ağrı. A delegation from the French Left Party (Parti de Gauche) was kept in detention at Istanbul Airport and threatened with expulsion and permanent interdiction to enter the country...
The OSCE sounded the alarm regarding the running of these elections in the reports published on its web site (in English and Turkish) noting that while the electors “had a real choice”, “the absence of conditions allowing the candidates to participate on an equal basis” must be noticed, particularly the fact that “The incumbent president and his party enjoyed a notable advantage, also reflected in excessive coverage by government-affiliated public and private media”.
Besides, “The restrictive legal framework and powers granted under the state of emergency limited fundamental freedoms of assembly and expression, including in the media”, and “Hastily adopted changes to the election legislation [...] made without consultations [...] removed important safeguards for election day procedures” concerning “transparency”. OSCE mentions several times in this reports these last minute modifications, particularly emphasizing that these “Legal amendments weakened important safeguards by replacing political party representatives with civil servants as chairpersons of the ballot box committees (BBCs), allowing relocation of polling stations on security grounds, increasing the authority of law enforcement at polling stations, and validating unstamped ballots”.
Finally, the Organisation makes a grim report on the present state of democracy in Turkey by noticing that not only “Fundamental rights and freedoms are not fully guaranteed by the Constitution and the legal framework”, but furthermore “Freedoms of assembly and expression are further restricted in practice, especially by provincial governor decisions [made] under the state of emergency”. OSCE then concludes that “Despite the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and previous recommendations by ODIHR and Council of Europe, the 10 per cent threshold continues to limit political pluralism”. (The OSCE preliminary report from June 27th may be read on the Paris Kurdish Institute website (-> https://www.institutkurde.org/en/info/turkey-early-presidential-and-parliamentary-elections-24-june-2018-statemen-1232551409), the OSCE website also holds the same text of course, plus a series of supplementary documents (->https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/turkey/381448)
Abroad, Washington welcomed Erdoğan’s re-election in an icy way while the American preacher Brunson remains imprisoned (AFP), and the European Union refuse any congratulations because the iniquitous electoral conditions. At the begriming of the month, while the Turkish Foreign Minister announced their reception of the first American Lightning II air fighters, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo contradicted him before a Senatorial Committee, stating that the sale was not yet decided, because of Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 anti-air system, which infringes a US law. On the 18th 44 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to the Secretary for Defence James Mattis, opposing this sale (Sputnik). At Brussels the Rapporteur of the European Parliament for Turkey, Kati Piri, called on the 4th for the release of Demirtaş.
On the 20th, Zehra Doğan, a Kurdish painter and journalist and co-founder of the Women’s Press Agency JINHA, imprisoned since June 2017, received the Courage in Journalism prize of the International Foundation of Women for the Media (IWMF), based in Washington (SCF).
Regarding military operations, the Turkish Army has continued them in both Iraqi Kurdistan Sidakan region and the Turkish side. Using 11 bases set up along the Iraqi-Turkish border, its troops have sent out patrols, which rapidly became PKK targets. Nevertheless, on the 24th, the latter announced it was suspending all its military activities during the elections to “enable the electors of Northern Kurdistan (Bakûr) to vote”.
Several incidents have aroused accusations of anti-Kurdish racism. At the beginning of the month the Chinese television CCTV broadcasted pictures, taken in late May, of an armoured vehicle crushing an old woman who was going to the post office. The driver was questioned then released. According to a Turkish NGO, 23 civilians have been victims of military vehicles since 2016. At Şemdinli, the troops beat some Kurdish shepherds to death then left them to die in the mountains. Found by relatives they were taken to hospital. The Şemdinli Public Prosecutor refused to meet a delegation of lawyers about this incident (Mezopotamya).
On the 2nd 2 Turkish soldiers were killed and another seriously wounded on the Iraqi side of the border in an attack on a road-making site (Dünya). The Air Force, for its part announced it had neutralised at least 15 PKK fighters on the Iraqi side at Tunceli and Siirt (Reuters). The next day, 3 soldiers were killed near Hakkari (AFP). On the 4th the Kurdish guerrilla claimed at least 16 deaths since 29th May in attacks on Şemdinli, Çukurca, Siirt, Uludere, and Bradost, on the Iraqi side. On the same day, the Turkish Ministry of the Interior announced that the Army was advancing towards the PKK bases at Qandil (Anadolu). On the 7th Mr. Erdoğan threatened Iraq with an anti-PKK operation and, for the first time, mentioned Makhmur, a town South of Mosul and Erbil. The Army also declared that 34 militants had been “neutralised” in Northern Iraq between the 1st and 8th June. On the 9th the governor of Şırnak announced that an air strike had killed at least 9 PKK members. According to an anonymous security source, a police officer died in this operation. Moreover the Army announced the destruction, by night time air strikes over the weekend, of 14 PKK targets in Iraqi Kurdistan, near Qandil, Khwakurk and Avasin-Basyan. On the 15th the Turkish Air Force claimed the deaths of 26 PKK militants in Qandil then, on the 17th of 35, hit during a meeting, including 8 high ranking ones (Reuters). The next day an HPG commander, Amed Malazgirt, denied these figures and accused Turkey of aiming rather at civilian areas (Rûdaw). The mayors of Rawandouz, Choman and Sidakan have, indeed, confirmed the air strikes but have all declared there was little material damage, casting doubts on their military effects …
On the 19th and the 20th, the Turkish Army again claimed the deaths of 10 Kurdish militants in air strikes on several villages of the Avasin-Basyan and Sinat Haftanin regions. On the same day the PKK claimed 2 soldiers killed and 2 wounded by a rocket fired at a convoy near Cukurca (Hakkari). On the 22nd the Turkish Army again claimed the deaths of 15 Kurdish militants in air strikes on Iraqi Kurdistan while a PKK spokesman promised an “unremitting resistance” to the Turkish “massive invasion” (AFP). On the 30th the Turkish Army claimed the deaths of 4 Kurdish militants in fresh air raids near d'Avasin Basyan.
Iraq is still in confusion over the results of the parliamentary elections, with endless institutional disputes over recounts, cancellations and frauds. In parallel, discreet discussions are going on between parties to form a government, but at the end of June, the solution did not seem at hand yet...
Concerning the economy, Kurdistan oscillates between optimism and pessimism: after the initial decrease in Daesh threat, the growth of foreign trade resumed (the KRG Ministry of Commerce estimated it to 20% more than in 2015), but the tense relations with Baghdad and the recent upsurge in jihadist activities are setting limits to this trend. With the question of disputed territories, oil remains one of the main causes of conflict between Baghdad and Erbil. Despite the Iraqi government's objections, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has continued talks with the Russian oil giant Rosneft, which announced on June 1st its hope to double production in Kurdistan by the end of 2018, from 5,000 to 10,000 barrels a day. The GRK-Rosneft infrastructure development agreement concluded on May 25th at the Saint Petersburg Economic Forum includes the construction of a new gas pipeline which will allow in 2020 to export annually to Turkey and Europe 20 billion m³ of gas. To each its partner: Baghdad has announced the entry into force of its own agreement signed with Iran in November 2017 – just one month after wresting the Kirkuk oil fields from Kurdish peshmergas – which provides for the daily shipment of 30 60,000 barrels of crude oil from Kirkuk to the Kermanshah refinery. In return, Iran will send to the southern provinces of Iraq the same quantity of refined oil. Iran is interested because Kirkuk is closer to its northern provinces than its own fields in Khuzestan... On the 28th, the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court, citing lack of clear legislation on the issue, postponed again its decision regarding the KRG's independent oil exports, this time to August 14th (Rûdaw).
In Kurdistan, the issue of wages remains sensitive. On June 1st, the peshmergas expressed their anger on Facebook after the Ministry of Finance announced a new payment schedule making them wait until the end of Ramadan... The KDP reassured them that it would defend their prompt payment. The Erbil Parliament was to meet on the 11th to try again to pass a controversial bill on wage reform, but disagreements between KRG and Parliament led to delay the session once more. The project aims at ending the simultaneous receiving of several salaries and limiting the number of beneficiaries of retirement pensions, which would save 100 to 120 billion dinars, allowing in turn putting an end to the unpopular system of payroll deductions. But the project has provoked many protests for other articles, including the one allocating to MPs a pension of 4 million dinars (US $ 3,375) while the minimum pension is only 300,000 (US $ 253)...
Finally, just three months after the lifting by Baghdad of its air blockade against Kurdistan, the company Fly Erbil made its first flight to Stockholm on the 18th. Scheduled for 2015, the launch was delayed after the onset of ISIS. The company that will fly primarily to Europe plans to quickly increase its fleet from 3 to 10 aircrafts.
While the May 12th elections confirmed in Kurdistan the position of the two traditional parties, PDK (25 seats against 19 in 2014) and UPK (18), they did not bring to any Iraqi formation a sufficient majority (165 seats out of 329) to govern alone. At the national level, the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's “Sayroon” (Sadrist-communist) coalition came first with 54 seats, followed by the “Fatah” coalition of Hashd al-Shaabi leader Hadi al-Amiri (47 seats) and outgoing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (42 seats). In the context of reciprocal accusations of fraud, negotiations to reach a coalition government have begun, a process that Kurdish parties certainly intend to participate in.
On the 2nd of June, President Fuad Massum declared invalid the 29th May Parliament's decision to cancel the votes from abroad and IDP camps, both because of the lack of a quorum and because it constitutes a encroachment on the prerogatives of the judiciary, thus violating the separation of powers. On the 5th however, the Prime Minister announced that his government would follow this decision and launch in every polling station in the country a manual recount of 5% minimum of the ballots. On the 6th, an explosion of ammunition stored in a mosque in the Sadr City district of Baghdad, a bastion of Sadrist militia, left 18 dead and more than 90 wounded; Muqtada al-Sadr then launched an order to disarm militias throughout Iraq. On the same day, the Parliament decided to freeze the work of the Electoral Commission and assigned 9 judges to begin a global manual recount, annulling again the votes of the IDPs, the diaspora and the security personnel of the Kurdistan Region – decisions made without PDK and UPK, which had boycotted the session. The Electoral Commission announced that it would appeal this “unconstitutional” decision. On the 7th, the Superior Council of Magistracy followed the Parliament and announced the appointment of the 9 judges. The recount of the ballots began shortly thereafter. The 6 Kurdish parties that had contested the election results, the Coalition for Democracy and Justice (CDJ) of Barham Salih, the Movement for Change (Goran), the Islamic Union of Kurdistan (Yekgirtû), the Islamic Group of Kurdistan (Komal), the Communist Party of Kurdistan, and the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (Bizutinewe) expressed their support. The PDK on the contrary denounced on the 9 the cancellation of the votes of peshmergas, displaced persons and the diaspora as “unconstitutional and illegal” (Rûdaw).
On the 10th, a criminal fire broke out in a Baghdad warehouse where more than one million ballots were kept... After the explosion of the 6th, this fire fueled tensions anew; the next day, Sadr spoke again, this time to warn against the risk of civil war, while the Al-Wataniya coalition of Ayad Allawi called for new elections...
On the 13th, KDP and PUK, supporting the attempt at establishing a Shiite alliance between the Sairoon (Sadr) and Fatah (Hadi al-Amiri) coalitions, announced they would negotiate jointly with the Iraqi parties in Baghdad their conditions of participation in the government – a statement confirmed on the 17th with the announcement of an upcoming PUK-PDK alliance, while other Kurdish parties declared they would refuse to participate in any such alliance with two parties they accused of fraud. According to PUK spokesman Saadi Pira, Kurdish demands include “the implementation of the constitution” (meaning compliance with Article 140 on the disputed territories, particularly Kirkuk), and “the resolution of the question of the budget” (Kurdistan 24). KDP leader Masoud Barzani said his party would not join any alliance until its agenda on Kurdish agenda was clarified (Rûdaw). Also on the 13th, thousands of peshmergas demonstrated in Sulaimaniyeh, protesting against the cancellation of their votes, accusing some Kurdish parties of complicity. On the 20th, the CDJ reiterated its call for the recount and its rejection of the results of the districts for which it claimed to have provided evidence of fraud. On the 21st, the Iraqi Supreme Court announced its decision: approval of the manual recount, but refusal of the cancellation of votes, deemed unconstitutional and a “confiscation of the will of the voters” (Rûdaw). The Parliament approved this judgment; the KDP and Goran agreed with the manual recount, which began in Kurdistan on the 23rd in the presence of observers and party members.
As for the parliamentary elections in Kurdistan, initially scheduled for November 1st, 2017, then delayed due to the post-referendum crisis, they will be held on September 30th. The Kurdistan Electoral Commission recommended on 6th November that the three elections – presidential, provincial and parliamentary – be held simultaneously, but this suggestion was rejected and only parliamentary elections will take place in the autumn. The regional Parliament has 111 seats, of which 11 are reserved by quota to the Christian, Turkmen and Armenian minorities. On June 1st, Yazidis spiritual leader Mir Tahsin Said Beg called on the KRG to obtain a Yazidi quota seat in Dohuk province. In the outgoing Parliament the KDP is the first party with 38 seats, followed by Goran with 24, then the PUK with 18 seats. On the 19th, the KRG announced it would finally not revise the old electoral lists, but that it had almost completed the drafting of new lists from the food ration forms of 31st December 2017. This should allow the elimination of 100,000 duplicates or deceased (Rûdaw).
After being afforded two more delays for registering with the Electoral Commission, 38 parties and 3 electoral coalitions finally accomplished this formality. The coalitions are Serdem ("Modernity"), grouping the Socialist Democratic Party of Kurdistan, Kurdistan Workers’ and Toilers’ Party, and the Democratic Union of Kurdistan, the “National Union”, bringing together Assyrian and Chaldean parties, and the Islamic “Reform Front”, made up of both Islamic Union (Yekgirtû) and Movement (Bizutinewe). Goran, the Islamic Group (Komal) and the CDJ will eventually compete in the elections on their own. Finally, the Commission stated it had rejected the files of three “non-criteria” parties, the Turkmen Equality Alliance, the Yazidi-Turkmen Democratic Party and the Assyrian Alliance Party.
The electoral consultation has reactivated the debate on the Presidency of the Region. Goran still asks for the abolition of the post or its filling by Parliament choice and not universal suffrage – the present mode of designation, supported by the KDP.
The other major conflict between Baghdad and Erbil remains the governance of disputed territories. On June 3rd, the Iraqi judiciary issued an arrest warrant against Rebwar Talabani, the Kurdish president of the Kirkuk Provincial Council, for supporting the September 25 referendum and hoisting the Kurdish flag on the official buildings of the province (AFP). Baghdad and Erbil exchanged dozens of such mandates after the referendum. On the 5th, Talabani, who took refuge in Erbil after October, said he was also reproached for leaving his post; he appealed, filed his own complaint for threats to his life, and obtained the suspension of the warrant. The Federal Court adjourned the case to February 2019 (Rûdaw). On the 6th, Rûdaw announced that in late May a Kirkuk court had issued an arrest warrant against former Kirkuk governor Nejmeddin Karim, who was accused of using a scheme to divert funds. Like Talabani, Karim was also blamed for his support for the independence referendum and raising the Kurdish flag in Kirkuk. On the 7th, KDP leader Masoud Barzani met with Karim and described the warrant as an “illegal decision”.
At the same time, Rûdaw denounced demographic change operations organised by the provincial governor of the province, Rakan al-Jabouri, who had allegedly transferred the residence of displaced persons to Kirkuk using food ration cards. According to Rûdaw, since October 2017, 391 Turkmen and Arab families from other provinces have had their ration cards transferred to Kirkuk – including 371 just for May – without providing proof of residence. Jabouri, denying any aim at engineering demographic change, spoke of humanitarian concerns. But on the 17th, he sent a letter to the Iraqi Ministry of Youth and Sports requesting the replacement by an Arab of the Kurdish official in charge of the city's Sports Department. The latter testified this was Jabouri’s third letter to that effect. Since his accession Jabouri has sacked 11 Kurdish security and administration officials...
In Kirkuk, those issues of fraud and votes recounting increased tensions that were already high. When the 9 judges supervising the manual recount announced on the 24th that it would only concern the offices where official complaints had been filed, they triggered uproar, particularly by the Turkmeneli party, but also by the Kurdish opposition parties, who decided to appeal the decision. The PUK, for its part, opposed a global recount, stating that since the ballots boxes had not been stored under appropriate security conditions, they had been reopened in between... (Kurdistan 24).
In Sinjar, tensions erupted on the 6th between Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi and the Yezidi Ezidxan militias of Haider Shesho – the leader of the Yezidi Democratic Party – who refused being disarmed, saying that since March 2018 they had been officially registered with the KRG Ministry of Pechmergas.
Finally, throughout the month, a true re-emergence of ISIS has been taking place in the territories taken over from the pechmergas last October, which the Iraqi security forces seem unable to check. On the evening of the 8th, Kirkuk was hit by at least 3 explosions that left two dead and more than 10 wounded. Other attacks hit Diyala province, near Khanaqin, to the point of pushing Kurdish families to leave. On the 10th, a bomb exploded in Halabja, without causing any casualties. On the 11th, jihadists abducted five people south of Kirkuk, including a Kakai figure. On June 13, the leaders of this community, whose members are evacuating more and more villages as they are attacked, accused the Iraqi army and militia of “negligence” and “inability to ensure their safety”, and requested the incorporation into the Kurdistan Region of Kirkuk and other disputed areas (Rûdaw). Other Kakai who had chosen to join the Hashd al-Shaabi to fight ISIS, but had not been paid by Baghdad for eight months, decided on the 19th to withdraw from the area (Kurdistan 24). In addition, Iraqi units in Kirkuk are accused of hostile behavior towards the population. A member of the Provincial Council, Almas Fazil (PUK), revealed that she had lodged a complaint against them over the killing of two civilians. In Khanaqîn, the bazaar went on strike on the 21st against the deterioration of the security situation, and the inhabitants demanded the return of the pechmergas.
On the 24th, the jihadists beheaded a mother and daughter both working for the Iraqi Electoral Commission in Hamrin (Diyala). On the 25th, Iraqi security forces reported that 6 of their members had been kidnapped by ISIS militants on the Kirkuk-Baghdad highway (VOA). In a video, the jihadists demanded in exchange for their lives the release before three days of Sunni prisoners. That same evening, ISIS fighters took control of a Kakai village near Daquq, killing one person and injuring two others. The Hamrin Mountains have become a focal point for jihadists who use false checkpoints to carry out kidnappings (Rûdaw). On the 28th, a multi-denominational delegation of Kakai, Christians and Muslims visited the UN office in Sulaimaniyeh, requesting the redeployment of peshmergas in their area. But the leader of the Iraqi Turkmen Front, Arshad al-Salihi, opposed it because it would cause “irreversible” problems (Dailysabah.com)...
On the 30th, Pechmerga and International Coalition aircrafts conducted a joint operation against ISIS near Makhmur, 60 km Southwest of Erbil (Rûdaw).
While the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continue their advance against ISIS in East Syria, the Turkish-backed Syrian militia continue their abuses in Afrin, and Turkey, at the height of electoral fever, continues to threaten Rojava as a whole. Ankara is, specifically, asking the US to evacuate the town of Manbij of the Kurdish YPG fighters… And contacts are also beginning between the SDF and Damascus.
On 1st June the YPG claimed the deaths of a considerable number of the fighters of the Olive Branch operation in Afrin during the attacks launched at the end of May on 2 Turkish bases, one at 7 km East and the other 8 km North of the town, during which 3 of their own fighters were killed (Rûdaw). In the areas held by the pro-Turkish fighters, the tensions continued. On the 4th the leader of the Jandaris Independent Civil Council, Dr. Ahmed Sileman, created by the residents after the Turkish invasion to manage the town was kidnapped by armed men and taken to an unknown destination. The Turks had created their own council… On the 15th the YPG claimed the deaths of 15 enemy fighters near Sherawa and in Afrin’s town centre (AMN News). Finally the UK-based but very well informed Syrian Centre for Human Rights (SCHR) reported the death of at least 9 people, 5 civilians and 4 pro-Turkish militiamen in a double bomb attack, not immediately claimed. A booby-trapped motorbike exploded near a Turkish in the town centre then a booby-trapped car aimed at a militia patrol. The assessment then went up to 15 victims killed or wounded. These 2 explosions took place a few hours after clashes with light weapons between 2 Jihadist groups. Already on the 13th a quarrel over a narghile had degenerated into an armed battle causing several deaths. Security is so badly managed that some families displaced from Ghouta to Afrin have chosen to leave back (Rûdaw). The day before, according to the SCHR, the city militia Ahrar al-Sham had forced seven Arab families to leave the Kurdish houses in which they had been settled: they had signed rental agreements with the owners. Accused of having had “dealings with the Kurdish forces”, they were expelled and threatened with imprisonment if they returned.
In the town, protests have already broken out after the Jihadists stuck up posters ordering people to obey the Shari’a, illustrating the point with a picture of a woman wearing a niqab. The posters were then removed by the Turkish military police, but provoked public protests by Kurdish women accusing the Jihadists of seeking to exclude them from public life. Some testify having been insulted in public whenever they wear Western cloths. At Bulbul, where 100 Kurdish families still live (against 600 before the invasion) a resident testified to the pressures to go to the mosque and for women to wear the hijab (The Independent). Many Kurds think that this fundamentalist pressure aims at making them leave — to impose ethnic cleaning.
Turkish threats also continue on the rest of Rojava. According to the Kurdish press agency ANHA, quoting local sources, East of Kobanê on the 6th Turkish troops opened fire for 20 minutes on the village of Ali Shar, provoking panic among the inhabitants. The village had already been bombed previously.
However the maximum pressure is exerted on Manbij, 30 km from the Turkish border, where American and French troops are stationed. On the 31st May the Trump administration had refuted any agreement to withdraw the YPG; however on the 6th, two days after a meeting between the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart, Çavuşoğlu, such a withdrawal was nevertheless announced… However it seems that this is more an eyewash retreat than a real one, the Kurds having declared after this meeting to withdraw certain “military advisers” charged with training local anti-jihadist fighters and leaving the control of the town to the Manbij military Council, a body that is certainly mainly Arab but created and organised by Kurds... Washington and Ankara have defined at the end of May the outline of a “road map” regarding the town, but the interpretations of the two capitals diverge: for Washington no timetable for carrying it out, for Ankara joint Americano-Turkish military in the town within 45 days, and, within 60 days, setting up a local administration replacing the former Civil Council… The town’s military Council declared it had received guarantees of its maintenance by the coalition, and indicated that the foreign troops were still present (AFP).
On the 7th the American Army began to patrol the streets of Manbij although the Military Council announced it had rejected the “road map” providing for a Turkish military administration, adding it was capable of “preserving security and the town’s borders from any exterior threat” (Reuters). The US Secretary for Defence, Jim Mattis, repeated the importance for the US of the SDF in the fight against ISIS, while Colonel Thomas Veale, the coalition’s spokesman, praised them for of “having created one of the most stable zones of Syria”.
On the 18th some Turkish armoured vehicles began patrolling near the town (Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu announced it with a clear pre-electoral aim…) but they did not enter the areas controlled by the SDF, remaining on the North bank of the river Sajur that separates these zones from the town of Jerablus, controlled by pro-Turkish militia. The spokesman of the Manbij Military Council, Şerfan Derwiş, declared: “The American forces patrol our side. The Turkish forces have not entered our zones of Manbij and have not crossed the Front Line”. The next day, Damascus condemned these “incursions of Turkish and American forces” in the sector. Çavuşoğlu’s declarations (“Our forces have begun to enter and patrol the zone between the Euphrates Shield operation and Manbij”) were rapidly contradicted by Colonel Sean Ryan, the spokesman for the coalition: “I can tell you that the Turkish troops will not enter Manbij; (…) The Manbij Military Council controls the whole area”.
These contradictory declarations occurred two days after ISIS had carried out its first attack in Raqqa since losing the town in October 2017. Claiming the deaths of several Kurdish fighters, the Jihadist organisation threatened further attacks. According to other sources, there was at least 1 death when a booby-trapped device exploded as an army vehicle passed by, near a base held by American and French troops. Faced by ISIS’s resurgence, the coalition seems, more than ever, to need the SDF on the ground.
On the 5th the SCHR announced that 55 pro-regime fighters had been killed in 2 days by ISIS attacks in the Euphrates valley; then on the 16th that the SDF had taken from the jihadists of Hasakeh province the village of Tall al-Shayr then, the next day, the neighbouring village of al-Dashisha, the jihadist’s last bastion in Eastern Syria and a strategic controlling point for passage to Iraq. The Kurds are now only 3 km from the Iraqi border. Over 30 jihadists were killed in the fighting. In the neighbouring province of Deir Ez Zor, ISIS still controls three large villages, Hajine, Sussa and Al-Shaafa. On the 17th, night-time air raids on the town of al-Hari (Deir Ez Zor) killed at least 52 pro-regime fighters, mainly Iraqis and Iranians. Damascus has accused the coalition, which denies it. The strikes could have been due to Israel.
On the 22nd, ISIS launched an attack on Raqqa, deciding the SDF (who had already foiled 2 attempts of infiltration) to declare a state of emergency on the 24th, with a full one-week curfew and a number of control points.
On the 26th the SDF announced they had totally liberated the province of Hasakeh of ISIS. One of the subsequent objectives could be, in the province of Deir Ez Zor, the town of Hajin, on the Eastern bank of the Euphrates. In parallel to this, contacts have begun between the North Syrian Federation and the Damascus regime. As usual these are still accompanied by threats of attack by Assad (the last one on 31st May had provoked a warning from the Pentagon). On the 2nd a delegation of the “official” Syrian opposition visited Qamishli, while Damascus asked the Americans to withdraw from the military base of al-Tanf… In parallel, Damascus reportedly agreed with the Kurds to share the oil from the Al-Omar oil field (Deir Ez Zor) crude oil in exchange for fuel (Damas did not comment). On the 7th the Syrian daily al-Watan confirmed meeting between the Syrian Democratic Front and the Kurdish administration, which ended with the possibility of negotiations, The Front’s spokesperson, Ms. Mays al-Kareidi, declared the Kurds had assured them they did not have any separatist or hostile intentions but had some “requirements regarding the democratisation of society and the administrative management”. On the 10th the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political expression of the SDF, announced it was ready for talks with Damascus without any pre-conditions. On the 14th the Syrian President stated on Russia Today that he was ready for negotiations while maintaining the possibility of military action in the event of failure...
Nothing reveals more clearly the abject poverty in which the Iranian regime maintains Iranian Kurdistan than the suicide rate of its inhabitants. Just in the single Iranian province of Kordestan, over 6,000 people are under surveillance for fear of suicide. On 31st May, according to the Organisation for the Defence of Human Rights Hengaw, two sisters of Mariwan, Anina and Farida Saidi, 30 and 35 years respectively, who barely survived by selling mountain vegetables, both ended their lives. On the 30th May a Kurdish soldier from Piranshar fired a bullet in his head. Last year there were 60 suicide attempts (39 men and 21 women), 4 of which were fatal. The Kurdish provinces are among the poorest in the country, with the highest rates of unemployment. In Kordestan it is 16.3%, the third highest in Iran. According to the Kurdish agency Kurdpa, the provinces of Kordestan, Ilam, Kermanshah and Lorestan were for last year the ones with the highest number of suicide in Iran.
Faced with unbearable economic difficulties, numbers of Kurds have no other choice for survival than to transport goods across the borders with the neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan and resell them, taking advantage of the differing price levels between the two countries. This cross-border trade, although vital for the population, is considered to be smuggling by the regime’s police and security forces. Hence the regular news of the death of these porters, called kolbers in Kurdish, shot by the Border guards of by the Guardians of the Revolution (pasdaran).
On the 6th the organisation Hengaw reported that 4 kolbers had been killed and 7 others wounded the week before. Moreover, the majority of crossing points with Iraqi Kurdistan have remained shut for months, making tens of thousands more unemployed and dramatically increasing the economic difficulties, leading to weeks of strikes and demonstrations.
On the 6th June the official responsible for the economic affairs of Kordestan Province, Hussein Firozy, declared to the IRNA news agency that customs posts would rapidly be opened at the semi-official passage points to allow the kolbers of the regions of Baneh, Mariwan and Sarvabad, and asked that the officials of these regions receive them so that they could register their cards. Teheran did, indeed, try to regulate the profession by issuing cards and, according to official records, 68,000 people are now equipped with them. However such official announcements made in the past were not followed up, and kolbers killings went on... On the 7th the security forces again opened fire on unarmed kolbers in 2 different incidents, causing 3 deaths and 3 wounded, and in another attack with artillery and machine guns on a group of 15 going towards Iraq, another 2 were wounded.
On the 12th the Iranian regime partly opened a border crossing point in Kordestan Province, announcing that it would impose taxes on goods crossing through. The shooting at kolbers did not cease, though. Two were wounded by bullets in the Chaldiran region, one of them had to be taken to hospital at Urmiah; then the following week the regime’s forces ambushed another group near Sardasht, wounding several and confiscating their goods. Again near Sardasht, another kolber died of a heart attack while he was transporting a load…
In parallel to this, several clashes took place between security forces and Peshmergas of the KDP-I (Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran), which returned to armed struggle in March 2016. In the evening of the 5th two Iranian soldiers were killed near the border at Sardasht. However, while the IRNA agency accused “counter-revolutionary groups” of Kurds, no party claimed the operation, and the KDP-I representative in Erbil attributed the event to fighting between Revolutionary Guards (pasdaran) and other Iranian internal forces. On the 8th fighting between pasdaran and KDP-I Peshmergas in the region of Shno (Oshnavieh) resulted in (according to the KDP-I) the death of 9 pasdaran and 18 wounded. The Council of the Revolutionary Guards (CRG) announced, for its part, 9 “terrorists” killed whereas the KDP-I declared having suffered no casualties. Finally the KDP-I announced the death of a senior peshmerga officer during the clashes with the pasdaran on the 23rd “in the Ziwa and Kona Lajan mountains in Piranshar”. The regime, for its part confirmed the death of an officer and a soldier.
Concerning the repression of political prisoners, the inmates of several prisons protested on the 19th against the death sentence of a young Kurd, Ramin Panahi, after the Iranian regime accused him of being a member of a banned political party. Panahi’s case drew the attention of Amnesty International because his trial was particularly unfair. Besides, the regime executed another Kurdish political prisoner, Mohamed Salas, a crime denounced by Amnesty International in a communiqué.
In a completely different domain, on the 11th the Swedish and Norwegian Ambassadors to Iran visited the Kurdish Province of Kermanshah and met its governor. The purpose of their visit was to see the damage caused by the 7,3 magnitude earthquake, the deadliest of 2017, which devastated the region in November, causing 630 deaths and 12,000 injured, but also to check up on their humanitarian aid. Indeed, the Iranian government had refused aid from Turkey, Japan, Qatar and Georgia, offered soon after the event. Sweden, however, paid 200,000 € to help the victims and is intent on providing aid in the form of medical equipment. The Kurdish population hit by the catastrophe had felt completely abandoned by the Iran government.