While the Turkish troops and their Syrian auxiliaries still occupy the Afrin region and several international agencies and organisations continue to denounce the violations of Human Rights that the occupiers are committing, the Syrian Kurds continue their sensitive discussions with the Damascus regime, which is preparing to regain the Idlib region, just South of Afrin. The perspective of a battle for Idlib, as that of the Kurds and Damascus drawing closer, cannot fail to worry Ankara …
After UNO, it is now Amnesty International that is directly accusing Turkey in a report, issued on 2nd August, denouncing the intolerable situation created by the occupation forces for the inhabitants of Afrin. The latter “suffer many repeated attacks on their Human Rights committed by Syrian groups armed and equipped by Turkey. (…) These breaches, to which the Turkish armed forces shut their eyes, include arbitrary detention, forced disappearances, the confiscation of property and plundering”. UNO demanded that Ankara, as the “occupying power”, and thus responsible for the security of the residents, maintain order in Afrin and “put an end to these violations without delay” (AFP). In a distinct enquiry of its own, the Syrian Centre for Human Rights (SCHR) report about 1,000 people arrested by various groups of rebels since the invasion. Basing themselves on dozens of witnesses the 2 reports draw a picture of a situation of anarchy and impunity.
According to the ANF news agency, the Yezidis are particularly targeted by the Jihadists, who try to convert them forcibly and oblige them to send their children to the mosque and to attend courses on religion. Those who refuse can be tortured and their protesting used as grounds for arrest as happened in the week of the 13th in the villages of Kurzele (Sherawa district), Qestal Kishk (Shera district) and at Rajo, in the Afrin region, where about twenty Kurds have been incarcerated. Abuses regarding property, especially olive trees, the most important source of wealth in Afrin, are being continued, especially at Rajo, where the Jihadists again burned down trees.
In parallel to this, Turkey organises the annexation of conquered areas by setting up a network of roads (Al-Monitor, 27/08). The first new road, linking al-Bab to al-Ray, was completed at the end of July and a motorway connecting Azaz, at the border, to Mare, North of Aleppo is under way. Another will reach the town of Jerablous, controlled by the Turks. This network will make easier the deployment of troops but also the entry of Turkish goods… Are Syrian areas under Turkish control due to suffer the fate of North Cyprus? Children at school are already learning Turkish and a “National Army” commanded from Ankara is coming into existence. The statement of one of its officers speaks volumes about its “discipline” — he had to order his men to “stop opening fire at random”! (Challenges, Reuters, 12/08). On the 29th the SCHR reported internal fighting between Jihadist militia at Jerablous, and at Idlib, the chaos took the form of explosions and kidnappings while Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, former Al-Nusra Front, Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda, hunts down anyone suspected of helping Damascus or ISIS (Xinhua).
Another Human Rights defence NGO, Human Rights Watch (HRW), went public on 3rd August and accused the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), the military wing of the PYD and the spinal column of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting ISIS, of recruiting children in the displaced persons camps (AFP). On the 5th the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political entity emanating from the SDF, reacted to these accusations by denouncing some possible “irresponsible individual abuses” that in no way represented the “SCD overall strategy”. It promised that if these facts turned out to be true to “restore the children to their families and bring those responsible to account”. In 2017 UNO had recorded 22 cases of recruiting children in YPG women’s section, five times more than the year before. Moreover, in a letter dated 16 July and published on the 3rd on the HRW site, the PYD explained that in certain cases the children had been taken away from the camps for their own protection, like the little girl of less than 12 from the Al-Arisha camp, who had been raped and made pregnant, whose family wanted to kill her because of her pregnancy, and who asked herself the YPJ fighters for protection. Her family, who accused them of having forcibly enrolled her, had evidently not mentioned these facts…
All through the month resistance to the occupation of Afrin continued. On 1st August the YPG published a video showing the execution of one of the Islamist leaders and claimed the attack on the HQ of the Sultan Mourad Brigade on 28th July in the Shara district, in which 2 fighters were killed and another one wounded. On the 3rd a fresh assessment was made of the deaths in attack of at least 9 rebels killed between 29 July and 2nd August, as well as an attack using a booby-trapped motorbike at Basutah, in the Sherawa district, where a Turkish soldier and 4 mercenaries were killed and 3 others seriously wounded. On the 2nd another Turkish soldier and 3 terrorists were killed, and two others wounded in an ambush against a jeep. On the 4th a YPG assessment covering the whole of July counted 54 occupation forces killed including 23 Turkish troops, 2 captains and 1 lieutenant, plus 31 fighters of the “Free Syrian Army” (Al-Masdar). On the 5th, a video of the execution of a Kurd, Akash Haji Ahmed, was shown on line. Having served as an informant for the Turkish Army, “a member of the traitors committee set up by the Turkish occupation authorities in the village of Deir Swan”, he also sent to displaced people threatening SMS messages to dissuade them from returning. A group calling itself Operation Olive Wrath claimed his execution in a declaration confirmed neither by the YPG nor the PYD. On the contrary, after the group had warned the inhabitants of Afrin to “stay away from the places where the mercenaries are settling” in case of fresh attacks and, after a bomb had caused on the 21st 3 civilians’ deaths in Afrin, the YPG denied any involvement in the latter, accusing the Turkish Secret Service. Meanwhile on the 14th they published an assessment covering the second week of August in which they claimed the deaths in 2 separate attacks of several Syrian fighters and some Turkish soldiers and dozens others wounded (Al-Masdar). On the 20th the execution was announced of a high-ranking commander of the Jabhat Al-Shamiyah, Mohammad Mahhou, in the night of the 18th in an ambush.
On the 26th, the YPG claimed 2 others ambushes in which 3 rebel chiefs lost their lives. The first, on the 19th, was on the Mabata main road and killed one of the Jabhat al-Shamiya mercenaries, Muhammad Ardwan. In the second operation it was a member of the Faylaq al-Sham group, Abu Muhammad al-Shamali, responsible for setting up the control posts in the Bulbul district roads, who was killed on the 24th. On the 30th the YPG declared they had killed the day before near Afrin, in a bomb attack, the military chief of the Faylaq al-Sham group, Khaled Obeid and 18 other fighters. According to the SCHR, YPG units killed at least 108 rebels and Turkish soldiers since March mars (Kurdistan-24). On the 31st, 2 Turkish troops and 2 Syrian fighters of the al-Hamza division were killed near Barbana village (Rajo) in an attack on a control post, which was completely destroyed. Several other fighters were wounded.
At Manbij, the situation has hardly changed, even though this town still arouses mush covetousness. On 1st August the Iranian agency Tasnim announced that the Syrian Army was waiting to enter it following the withdrawal of the SDF, repeating news published in the pro-regime daily al-Watan, which said that the local population had set up banners of welcome at the town’s main entry points! On the 19th the Turkish Army announced the beginning of “joint patrols” with the Americans. This was probably designed for domestic political use and to force the Americans’ hand.
In Deir Ezzor Province, on the Iraqi borders, the SDF have continued their anti-ISIS operations, with considerable air support from the international coalition (20 strikes from 30th July to 5th August). The objective is to drive the Jihadists out of the pockets into which they have withdrawn. According to the SCHR, on the 6th “at least 28 jihadists (…) were killed by the air strikes and artillery barrages on the Bir al-Meleh region”. At the end of July the commander of the French forces in the coalition, Gereral Parisot, suggested that “some hundreds” of jihadists only still controlled a strip of land between the towns of Hajin and Boukamal, warning however that fighting could still last another two to three months (AFP). On the evening of the 17th the SDF repelled a jihadist attack on the buildings that sheltered America and French troops. This was to the East of Deir Ezzor Province, on the Omar oil fields, one of the largest in Syria. Seven jihadists were killed in the fighting, which lasted till dawn. This was the biggest attack since the SDF regained Omar last October (SCHR). On the 26th the SDF captured alive six jihadists hiding in a farm, South of Hasakah, who had fled from the fighting in Iraq last summer. (Al-Masdar).
Parallel to this, following the announcement on 28th July of the creation of “joint committees” to search for a political solution on the basis of “decentralisation”, the authorities of the North Syrian Federation have pursued discussions with Damascus. Although agreements have been made like the recent on the Tabqa Dam and over oil, the differences are so great that it is hard to imagine a rapid agreement… Some State employees were able to gain access to the Tabqa Dan to carry out maintenance in exchange for a percentage of the electricity produced, and as for or oil production the regime accepted was said to have accepted to provide its expertise in exchange for sharing the revenues. This kind of “technical” agreement, which first of all seeks to restore government services in areas held by the SDC will be the aim of these committees (Asharq al-Awsat in Arabic). These may, perhaps, help establish mutual confidence, despite the memories the Kurds keep of the oppression by the regime… On the 5th the executive President of the SDC, Ms. Ilham Ehmed, strongly denied any deal of handing Raqqa and Hasakah to Damascus, and defended the idea of a “decentralised” Syria, adding that it was just the centralisation that had caused the present crisis (al-Masdar). On the 12th another member of the SDC, Hesen Eli, pointed out that the rumours that the areas liberated from ISIS by the SDF would immediately be handed to the regime were without basis and that there would be no discussion about this with Damascus. Eli added that the SDC and the regime agreed in describing the Turkish presence as an occupation, adding further: “Discussions are taking place with various world governments, since the invasion of Afrin is an international problem and we are defending Syria’s territorial integrity. (…) The liberation of Afrin is our priority” (ANF).
On the 13th the SDF spokesman, Kino Gabriel, denied rumours of joint participation with the regime’s Army in operations on Idlib.
For his part, the Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem, questioned in Moscow on the 30th during a joint Press conference with Sergueï Lavrov by a correspondent of Kurdistan 24 on the future rights of the Kurds in the constitution being prepared, avoided the issue by answering “it was not his business but that of the “Constitutional Committee”…
Finally on 27th of August the TEV-DEM (Coalition of Kurdish Parties and those of other ethnic groups) in power in Rojava elected two new co-Presidents during its Third Congress, held at Rmeilan (Hasakah Province). They are Ms. Zelal Cegar and Mr. Xerîb Heso (Rûdaw).
While he is approaching the absolute power of which he had been dreaming, Mr. Erdoğan is caught by the failures in his hazardous economic management and his regional political line. As a result of tensions with the United States, Turkey finds itself in a serious financial crisis. On the 10th August, “in a single black Friday”, the Turkish lire lost 19% of its market value to fall to the historically low rate of 7 lire to the dollar (as against 1,9 in 2003). However Erdoğan still refuses to raise the interest rate of his (nominally independent) Central Bank — a classical method of defending one’s currency – preferring instead to denounce an “international conspiracy”. After all his anti-Western speeches he becomes aware of the extent of Turkey’s economic dependence on the West…
On 1st August, after the US pastor Andrew Brunson was placed under house arrest, the White House announced sanctions against the Turkish Ministers of the Interior and Justice — unprecedented measures between NATO allies! While the financial impact remains feeble, its symbolic effect could not be stronger. The US Treasury, that supervises US sanctions, declared that the two Ministries were “the directors of Turkish governmental organisations charged with carrying out serious violations of human rights”, showing that the Brunson affair is not the only one at issue. Another factor of Turko-American tension is the trial at New York of the Irano-Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab for Turkish breaches of the US sanctions against Iran. Zarrab, who is cooperating with the enquiries has directly omplicated Erdoğan as the one who gave the orders and chief corrupter. The latter has violently attacked the case as a “conspiracy” against his government while Turkey openly declared its opposition to new sanctions against Iran. Finally, in the face of the Turkish project of buying the Russian system of defence against air raids, S-400, at the end of July the US Senators proposed to block delivery to Turkey of the F-35 fighter planes, although some of their parts are produced in Turkey! This proposed law also calls on Turkey to release all the US citizens “wrongly detained”: Andrew Brunson of course, but also Serkan Gölge, a bi-national scientist arrested on 23 July 2016 while he was visiting his family, on suspicion of taking part in the Coup d’État (Business Insider).
Relations have so deteriorated that some analysts are advising the United States to prepare an alternative to the Incırlık base in case Turkey forbids them to use it…
Inside the country, the HDP was the only major party in Parliament to refuse to condemn the US sanctions, leading some papers to describe the HDP as America’s only friend in the country (SCF). The leader of the CHP (kemalist), Kemal Kilicdaroğlu, although in the opposition, called for sanctions against the United States, while a leader of İyi (extreme Right, a break away from the MHP) suggested the seizing of Trump Towers in Istanbul…
On the 10th, at the height of the collapse of the Turkish lira, Donald Trump announced a 100% increase in the taxes on the import of Turkish aluminium and (especially) steel, which represent 15% of Turkish exports … On the 12th, when the sanctions came into force, the speech (twice postponed) of the Turkish Minister of Finance, Berat Albayrak, the President’s son-in-law, could only increase the anxieties of business circles. On the 14th the White House and the State Department both made intransigent statements, renewing their demand for the release of Brunson before any discussions and threatening “new measures” (Kurdistan 24).
Relations with other countries are also tense. On 1st August a Danish Court ruled in favour of the release of a Kurd arrested on 14th July, following one of dozens of Turkish demands of extradition sent to Interpol since 2016. Reasons cited: the failure to observe Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, particularly the absence of torture. Denmark had already invoked this reason for refusing the extradition of another Kurd. In February the Syrian Kurdish leader Salih Muslim had been released by a Czech Court; last week another Kurd living in Switzerland was released despite a Turkish accusation of links with the PKK (Kurdistan 24). Arrests and intimidations by Turkey on its own land of bi-nationals of Kurdish origins are also a factor of international tension. On the 2nd an Austrian born in Turkey, who had come for his uncle’s funeral, was arrested with his partner for having shared on Facebook some reports of German television criticising Ankara’s and “Sultan Erdoğan’s” Kurdish policy (Kronen Zeitung). He was kept in detention for 4 days then expulsed and forbidden entry for 5 years. On the 18th, a German of Kurdish origins was arrested for “pro-PKK propaganda” (Der Tagesspiegel). According to official figures, at least seven other Germans are at present in prison for “political reasons”.
Arrests and condemnations continue also for Turkish citizens, to the satisfaction of the “sultan” who, as early as 1st August promised to “pursue the struggle against the terrorists to the last one”, following a bomb arrack at Yüksekova (Hakkari) that killed a baby and its mother and raised considerable feeling (AFP). Still encouraging nationalist feelings, Mr. Erdoğan again repeated that he was not opposed to the restoration of the death penalty it Parliament voted for it…
On the same day, however, in a rare piece of judicial good news, the Turkish Constitutional Court ordered that an indemnity of 200,000 Turkish lira be paid to the HDP Member of Parliament Meral Danış Beştaş for a judgement that had “violated her right to freedom”. She had been condemned on January 2017 for having participated in the meeting of the HDP’s Executive Council that had called for demonstrations against ISIS’s attack on Kobane. These demonstrations had caused the death of 53 people for which the court considered those who called for the demonstrations responsible. However the Constitutional Court considered that the lower court had not proved that Ms. Beştaş had voted in favour of the demonstrations.
On the 5th the Turkish President directly threatened the HDP’s voters, declaring that they would be “considered responsible” (Ahval). 10,000 of its members, so a quarter of them, are in jail, as well as over a hundred mayors and 9 Members of Parliament. On the 6th, the woman journalist Hülya Emeç, at present in exile, received 6 months jail sentence for having reported the death by a heart attack of a 48 year old Kurd, Şefik Tunuç, following police harassment. They had carried out 3 raids on his house in a single week in 2014. She was sentenced in accordance with Article 301 of the penal code that punishes insults to the country or its institutions (SCF). On the 10th a former HDP candidate at Kayseri, Kenan Marasli, was arrested with three other people for “pro-PKK propaganda” on the social networks (Turkey Purge). On the 17th the DBP (Democratic Regions Party, a regional ally of the HDP) mayor of a sub-district of Adıyaman Province, Yusuf Yaka, was arrested with 12 other suspects following the deaths of 4 Turkish soldiers during attacks on the PKK. In the following days other members of the BDP were arrested, particularly at Urfa, then, on the 21st, 6 members of the HDP at Ankara during raids on their homes. On the 24th the former HDP member of Parliament Leyla Birlik preferred to flee the country and ask for asylum in Greece (SCF). Sentenced last January to 21 months jail for insult to the President, she was released pending her trial and forbidden to leave the country. According to Greece, 1,839 Turkish citizens have asked for asylum between January and July 2018 — 687 of them in July… (T24)
On the 25th, for the first time in years, the Istanbul police attacked the demonstration of the “Saturday Mothers’” (Cumartesi Annelerı) with water cannons and tear gas. These women have been protesting every week since 1995 against the “disappearance” of relatives. This time 23 people were arrested, including one of the leaders of the movement, Emine Ocak, who is more than 80 years old.
Furthermore, anti-Kurdish discrimination is becoming increasingly evident in many contexts. An article in the magazine revue Turkey Dispatches reveals that imprisoned Kurdish journalists are in greater danger of being detained far from their families. Finding themselves hundreds of miles from the place where they are due to be tried, they have to use the SEGBİS (Ses ve görüntü bilişim sistemi) videoconference system to appear before the courts. Not only is this system notorious for poor working but its use has increased tenfold since 2013 (International Press Institute)… On the 20th, the Sports Minister refused the use of a pitch for the season’s opening ceremony to the Amedspor football club. The club’s name is a reference to the Kurdish name for the city of Diyarbakir — Amed… The excuse used mentioned burst pipes, although no maintenance had been planned. The club had already been fined by the Turkish Football Association when it had changed its name… (Ahval). On the 22nd a concert by the Kurdish singer Mem Ararat, from Mardin, was forbidden without any explanation, although authorisation had been obtained and the hall reserved (SCF, Kurdistan-24). On the 23rd the paper Welat, the last national daily in Kurdish, was banned. This paper had been harrassed for years by dozens of bans which obliged it to change its name as many times: Welat, Hawar, Welatê Me, Dengê, Azadiya Welat… This time the periodical’s death could well be for good.
The military operations against the PKK are being pursued, especially in Iraqi Kurdistan, while the Turkish General Staff continues to flood the media with announces reporting the death of terrorists or the destruction of arms caches or shelters. On the first days of the month they published on the 2nd (“neutralisation” of at least 5 PKK fighters), then on the 8th and 9th August. On the 10th the Army announced the “neutralisation” of a commander, Ahmet Dorak, better known by his nom de guerre Sahin, near Khwakurk. On the 4th a policeman was killed and 8 others wounded in Hakkari province by the explosion of a bomb as their vehicle passed by. On the 12th the Minister of the Interior announced the “neutralisation” of another ranking PKK fighter, Ibrahim Çoban, whose nom de guerre is Atakan Mahir, then announced the next day, on the 13th, that 2,218 operations had been carried out since the 6th in which 35 PKK terrorists had been killed and 128 people suspected of helping the PKK arrested. During the night of the 22nd the Turkish Air Force bombed intensively several villages in the Bradost region of Iraqi Kurdistan, and another PKK commander, Baris Oner, known as “Tarik the Turk” was killed in the Black Sea region — one of the few non-Kurdish areas in which PKK fighters operate (Kurdistan 24). On the 26th the General Staff announced that on the 24th a PKK commander, Fecri Demir, nom de guerre Tolhildan, was killed during an offensive supported by army airplanes in the Dogubayazit region. On the 27th, the Ministry of the Interior announced “2156 operations since the 20th in which 12 terrorists were killed…”. On the 28th a civilian was killed in a Turkish air strike near Sidakan in Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as the cows of a herd; then on the 31st the Turkish Army announced the death of 19 Kurdish fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Nevertheless, it was the targeted assassination by a Turkish strike on the 15th of this month of a Yezidi leader, the 66-year-old Zekî Şingalî (real name Îsmaîl Özden), in the Shingal (Sinjar) region, that aroused the most condemnations. The plane struck his convoy as he was returning from a ceremony to commemorate 800 people massacred in the village of Kocho, four years ago. Four members of the YBŞ (Sinjar protection units) were also killed and a commander was wounded. The Union of Kurdish Communities (KCK) the coordinator of several parties close to the PKK, of which Şingalî was a member of the Executive Council, has accused Iraq, the US and the KDP of “violating the air space of Sinjar” and of “having authorised the planes of the Turkish State to attack Sinjar”. The US-led anti-ISIS coalition declared that this action was a “unilateral decision” by Turkey. The HDP condemned the Turkish strike, describing it as an attack on the Yezidis. On the 17th the coordination of Yezidi communities demanded the closing of Sinjar air space and sanctions against Turkey and accused Iraq, responsible for the security of its Yezidi citizens, of having let this happen.
The article devoted to the death of Şingalî by the New York Times of the 16th aroused Turkey’s rage as it mentions that “he was considered a hero by the many members of the Yezidi minority” that he had saved from ISIS. Ibrahim Kalın, the official spokesman of the Turkish president, accused the daily of “justifying (…) the PKK’s terrorism” (Spoutnik). On Saturday 19th, while Şingalî’s funeral was taking place in Sinjar, there were many demonstrations of solidarity in Kurdistan and in the rest of the world, condemning his assassination, and paying homage to him (Rojinfo).
On 9th August the Iraqi Electoral Commission, after dozens of challenges and a manual recount, finally announced the final results — practically identical to the initial results… The bargaining between coalitions to decide on the next government were resumed, the Kurds trying, despite their divisions, to take part in unity to give weight to their demands. At the same time, Kurdistan also continued preparing for its parliamentary elections, set for 30th September. All this took place in a context of violence affecting the whole of the country: demonstrations against corruption in the South, fresh ISIS attacks in the North — especially in the territories disputed between Kurdistan and the Federal Government, subjected to an Arabisation policy…
The final results of the 12th May elections, ratified by the Federal Court on the 14th, are identical to the initial results in 13 of the 18 Iraqi provinces, including Kurdistan (some recounting had to be cancelled following a fire in a warehouse in which some of the ballot boxes had been stored). Moqtada Sadr`s Sairoon coalition remains at the top with 54 seats out of 329, followed by the Fatih list (the list of the pro-Iranian Hashd al-Shaabi militia, 47 or 48 seats) and the Nasr list, that of the outgoing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (42 seats). On the 10th, Nasr announced a preliminary agreement with Sairoon, Hikma (“Wisdom” list led by Ammar al-Hakim) and Wataniya (a “national” Coalition led by Iyad Allawi) to form the next government. Nasr’s chief negotiator, Khaled al-Obeidi, added he had also reached an agreement with the KDP. However on the 13th, according to Rûdaw, another coalition including Fatih, State of Law (Maliki) and Fadhila (Party of Islamic virtue) was also negotiating with the Kurds…
These negotiations raise the question of Kurdish unity facing Baghdad. Whereas 4 of the Kurdish opposition parties, Gorran, the Islamic Union of Kurdistan (Yekgirtû), the Coalition for Democracy and Justice (CDJ) and the Islamic Group (Komal) stood firm on their rejection of the results, the KDP and the PUK have drawn up a common 30-point agenda and called on the others to join them. This agenda stipulates, inter alia, that the governance of Kirkuk must be decided in accordance with Article 140 of the Constitution, i.e. by a referendum of the peoples concerned. The 4 parties, while deciding to go to Baghdad separately, finally accepted a conditional dialogue to reach a common agenda in negotiations with the Arab coalitions. On the 18th, the PUK-KDP delegation even delayed its departure to the Iraqi capital, trying to convince the others to join them…
On the 19th Sairoon, Nasr, Hikma and Wataniya announced an inter-religious coalition while the KDP leader, Masud Barzani was receiving a high level Sunni delegation in Erbil (Kurdistan 24). As they did for the Kurds, the Shi’a coalitions offered the Sunni Arabs some concessions to persuade then to join them. On the 20th, to convince the Sunni Arab “National Front” to join the Fatih – State of Law coalition, the assistant commander of the Hashd al-Shaabi militia ordered the latter to close their offices and withdraw from towns with a Sunni population.
On the 24th, in preparation of the new Parliament’s first session, the outgoing President Fuad Masum met the coalitions leaders Abadi and Maliki. According to the Constitution, the Parliament must elect a new President within 15 days of the results being ratified by the Federal Court. The latter then must within 15 days appoint a Prime Minister, who must himself within 30 days appoint his cabinet, each minister of which must be individually approved by the M.P.s. In the event of failure, the President has another 15 days in which to start the process anew with another Prime Minister… On 27th August Masum announced by decree that Parliament would meet on 3rd September, which speeded up the bargaining between the Shiite and Sunni Arabs and the Kurds (KDP-PUK). Maliki and Sadr were competing for the support of the last named: “There are signs of agreement between the Kurds and the Sunni Arabs to ally themselves with Sairoon” stated Ra’ad Fahmi, leader of the Communist Party and an influential member of Sairoon. A senior officer of Nasr, Ahmed al-Hamdani, even declared he was even prepared to accept the return of the Peshmergas to Kirkuk… before being contradicted the next day by Abadi, who declared that the subject was not on the table. On the 27th a joint Sairoon – Nasr – Hikma – Wataniyya delegation went to Erbil to discuss the integration of the KDP-PUK block. Its members met the former President of the Kurdistan Region, Masud Barzani. In parallel to this some Sunni representatives of the “Axis” alliance, who had also met the KDP leader, declared having reached a “common project” with the Kurds. This alliance could choose the next Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, a post attributed to a Sunni Arab since 2005. The next day encounters brought together the PUK, the KDP and the opposition…
In the South of the country, demonstrations against corruption have been continuing, perhaps less intensely. The Prime Minister Abadi tried at the end of July and in early August to calm demonstrators anger by several measures: replacement of several Ministers (in particular the one in charge of electricity) and election executives, spreading out the debt repayments of farmers, granting funds to hospitals and development projects (ISHM-Epic). This has not prevented the resumption of demonstrations on the 10th in Najaf and Baghdad Provinces, where the demonstrators gathered in Tahrir Square. On the 15th the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Iraq announced the death of a demonstrator arrested in Bassorah and of clashes that broke out with the police in that city. On the 31st fresh demonstrations broke out, especially in the port of Umm Qasr.
In the North it is the persistence of ISIS, especially in the disputed areas that gives cause for concern. On the 13th a UN report estimated that about 20 to 30,000 jihadists remain, roughly equally divided between Syria and Iraq, including many foreign fighters (Kurdistan 24). In the morning of the 6th ISIS caught some Iraqi troops in an ambush near Makhmur (60 km Southwest of Erbil). On the 10th the Iraqi border guards killed 5 jihadists and captured 2 others; on the 11th 2 more were killed north of Bayji. On the 14th of August news was made public of the “clinical death” of ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the rise of a new leader, Abu Othman al-Tunisi, a Tunisian. However on the 22nd the organisation broadcast an audio message from Baghdadi in which he called upon his partisans to “remain unshakable in the fighting” and mentioned recent events such as the issue of the American preacher detained in Turkey… On the 29th members of the Iraqi Security forces were killed or severely wounded in a booby-trapped car attack in Anbar Province for which ISIS claimed 28 deaths. That evening at least 11 jihadists were killed by air strikes on Makhmur, and the next morning another attack using a booby-trapped car killed 2 Iraqi officers at a control point near Hawija, West of Kirkuk (Kurdistan 24). In the opinion of the KRG deputy Minister for Peshmergas, the Iraqi forces and the Hashd militia are incapable of ensuring the security of the disputed areas without the co-operation of the Peshmergas and that this is a problem that has to be tackled as a priority by the new Iraqi government (Kurdistan 24).
In parallel to this, the assessment of ISIS’s atrocities is continuing to be drawn up. Unanimously passed by the UN Security Council in 2017, the UN enquiry will soon be starting. It will give the data enabling to bring to trial those responsible. According to the KRG, over 2,500 Yezidi lost their lives from ISIS’s acts of violence and another 6,000, principally women and children, were kidnapped. Four years later over 3,000 women and children are listed as disappeared and 300,000 Yezidis are living in camps in Northern Iraq…
Besides, the policy of Arabisation carried out in several areas still arouse protests. On the 2nd, representatives of Shabak, Yezidi and Assyrian communities in Mosul Provincial Council wrote to the Council’s President and to the Iraqi Minister of the Interior a joint letter in which they protested against the project of settling 450 families of Arabs originally from other parts of Iraq. They denounced a breach of Article 23 of the 2005 Constitution, according to which “the acquiring of one or several properties to effect a change in the demographic change is forbidden”. In Kirkuk Province, the Kurds complain of being taken to court by Iraqis from the Centre and South of the country who had received title deeds to property under Saddam Husayn. These people, supported by the interim governor of Kirkuk appointed by Baghdad, now claim these properties although, at the fall of that regime, they had returned in exchange for financial compensation, as laid down in the new Constitution. On the 14th, Kamal Kirkuki, the KDP official in charge of Kirkuk, publicly denounced “a new campaign of Arabisation” whereby 12,000 families had been brought from the South and Centre of the country in the course of a single year.
Another aspect of this same policy, since it had taken control of Kirkuk Province, the Iraqi government had dismissed from their jobs 47 Kurdish officials, beginning with the governor of Kirkuk (Rûdaw). This policy arouses resistance. Thus the mayor of Daquq, Amir Khwakaram, challenged his sacking before the Supreme Court which will hear him as well as the present governor in October. On the 22nd a delegation of Turcomans and Kurds from Kirkuk secured from the Ministry of Agriculture the suspension for enquiry of a decree authorising Arab families to settle on their land. If the enquiry shows that no consensus is possible, the Minister has promised to definitively annul the contested decree.
Finally the Arabisation process also affects official documents: the Oil Ministry forbade, on the 13th the use of Kurdish terms in the Northern Oil Company’s documents, even threatening to sue offenders… (Kurdistan 24)
Another point of tension is the exporting of oil. Whereas on the 14th the Federal Court postponed for the fourth time making a decision on the KRG’s exports to Turkey, arguing that there were contradictory articles in the text of the Constitution and entrusting the case to an expert, yet on the same day the Iraqi Prime Minister met the Turkish President to discuss opening a new passing point in the border enabling “direct trading” between the two countries — that is “without passing through Kurdistan”. There is also at issue the idea of exporting Kirkuk’s oil to Turkey by a pipeline crossing the same area. This involves making the Pêsh Khabour strip of land into a triple Iraq-Turkey-Syria border post — an area that the Iraqi Army had tried in vain to take from the Peshmergas in October 2017. It is also the place where an oil pipeline already exists — but controlled by the KRG… Kurdish officials have already stressed that their agreement would obviously be necessary for such a project — which in any case is deemed unrealistic until full security has been restored to Kirkuk…
On other levels relations seem better. On the 21st, at the demand of the governor of Sulaimaniyeh, Iraqi civil air authorities have discussed with Turkey the problem of banning of flights from the latter to or from Sulaimaniyeh airport (Rûdaw).
Finally the Kurdistan Region is actively preparing for its Parliamentary elections, set for 30th September. This will be for 111 seats, 100 “general” seats plus 11 “quota seats” reserved for minorities. At the end of July the PUK and the KDP published the lists of their respective candidates, some of whom are already sitting M.P.s. The Kurdistan Electoral Commission has approved 38 lists covering over 800 candidates. Most of the parties have presented 100 candidates (1 for each seat); on the 13th the “New Generation” movement of the former media businessman Shaswar Abdulwahid Qadir announced 50 candidates.
The authorities have besides issued warnings concerning the poor rate of registration by the electors. Voters have to go to the Electoral Commission’s local offices to renew their elector’s card. On the 8th, 4 days before the time limit, less than 5% of the electors had done so. Sulaimaniyeh had the lowest rate of re-registration with 28,000 registrations out of 1.19 million (i.e. barely 2.4%), Erbil came next with 41,449 of 1.1 million (3.79%) then Duhok with 30,000 out of 722,000 (4.2%). In the newly created province of Halabja, 6,000 electors had renewed their elector’s card out of 460,300 (8.8%).
On the 12th, the Electoral Commission set the campaign period from the 5th to 28th September, then announced on the 19th that it had cleansed the electoral list of 200,000 people either deceased or doubled. According to certain parties – Gorran, CDJ, Islamic Union (Yekgirtû), Islamic Group (Komal) – the list still had some problems of this type.
Regarding relations between the Kurdish parties, on the day of Eid, the PUK Political Committee apologised to Gorran for the attack on its premises in Sulaimaniyeh on the evening of the elections and Gorran accepted the apologies. On the 27th a PUK delegation visited the scene to confirm the reconciliation (it did not include cadre responsible for the attack).
Throughout August military tensions, which had increased in the previous months, persisted, giving rise to violent clashes between the Kurdish parties and the regime’s repressive forces. Each side claimed deaths suffered by the enemy and the pasdarans (Gardians of the Revolution) continued their violent abuses of power against the Kurdish trans-border porters (kolbars) and the inhabitants of villages near the borders. In parallel the fate of political prisoners and particularly of Ramin Hossein Panahi, who is still threatened with execution, continued to arouse concern.
At the beginning of the month, the Association for Human Rights in Kurdistan indicated that the regime’s security forces had arrested, without any charges, 27 men from Kurdish villages near the town of Mariwan. These men were taken to an unkown location, and no information regarding their fate was given to their families (WKI). Both the KDPI and the pasdarans announced fighting one another for several hours at night the 11th and near the town of Oshnavieh (Shno), not far from the borders with the Kurdistan Region. They both clamed dozens of the enemy’s forced killed. One Iranian communiqué described the KDPI’s Peshmergas as “terrorists (…) affiliated to international arrogance”… In the context of the many Turkish bombing raids against the PKK and the Iranian incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan against the Kurdish parties of Rojhelat, the Turkish gendarmerie and Iranian border police met on the 10th in the Boralan district, near Maku (Iran), affirming their common aim at fighting the PKK and its Iranian brother party, the PJAK, as well as smuggling.
In response the PJAK launched a call on the 12th for the unity of the Kurdish parties against Teheran. It proposed the creation of a multi-party Commission to resolve rivalries, a combined armed force and a shared media platform as well as the formation of a National Democratic Council that could be later enlarged by accepting new members, as well as a joint Diplomatic Council. The proposal was rejected by the other Kurdish parties, however. A leading cadre of Komala considered the plan unrealistic seeing the absence of any previous dialogue, while a leader of the KDPI declared that the PJAK’s project did not match their own strategic objectives since the road maps of the two parties were totally different. Last January, after the murderous attacks on the KDPI base at Koya, in Iraqi Kurdistan, a Commission was created enabling the Kurdish parties to exchange information so as to face up to threats to their safety but the PJAK was not part of it…
On the 16th the KDPI claimed it had killed 3 pasdarans in an attack of one of their bases at Sardasht (Western Azerbaijan), while on the same day a new armed group, the “Red Flag Fighters”, claimed the execution of a police officer in Kermanshah for “the years of suffering he had inflicted on the local Kurdish population”. According to the communiqué, published again in a Komala outlet, Major Hassan Maliki had ceaselessly harassed the families of political activists and the citizens of Rwansar.
According to news from Iranian Kurdistan, harassing is indeed permanent, especially against the cross-border porters, the kolbars. The endemic poverty often leaves the inhabitants no other means of survival than this type of job, as is shown by the strike launched on the 8th by the municipal employees of Sardasht, unpaid for months past. These kolbars are considered smugglers by the repressive forces and frequently shot down in the mountains — real cases of unpunished “legal murder”. On the 9th one of then was killed on his way near Salmas, near the Iran-Turkey border. More than a dozen others were arrested in a raid by repressive forces at Birwan, near Sardasht. On the 22nd yet another barely aged 19 was killed on the Iraqi border near Oshnavieh (Shno). On the 25th another porter was killed by the explosion of a mine near Penjwîn, on the border between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan. Three other, wounded, were taken to a medical centre at Penjwîn, on the Iraqi side of the border. Although there are still anti-personnel mines left from the Iran-Iraq war, the local inhabitants accuse the regime of having recently laid new ones against the Kurdish fighters…
Moreover the pasdarans do not hesitate about attacking civilians or damaging the environment. On the 21st, according to the Human Rights Association of Kurdistan, “for reasons of national security” they expelled the inhabitants of 500 border villages in Kermanshah Province and converted the whole region into a military zone (WKI). On the 25th they bombed the mountains near Mariwan, provoking a forest fire which killed four firemen and several ecological activists who had come to fight the fire. This sparked off demonstrations in Mariwan (Kurdistan 24). On the 28th a new fire broke out near Sardasht whose origins are unknown, but the activists suspect it was started deliberately by the forces of repression to prevent the opposition groups from hiding in the woods… (WKI)
Finally on the 31st, Voice of America reported the desertion of a Kurdish officer of the Iranian Police who had been obliged to flee Iran after refusing to arrest people taking part in anti-government demonstrations. According to his testimony there have been other desertions even from the Army and the pasdarans.
The situation of political prisoners in Iran continues to worry Human Rights defenders. In particular the family of Ramin Hossein Panahi, who had been sentenced to death at the end of an iniquitous trial, expressed from the beginning of the month their fears for his life. It seems that the media associated with the pasdarans are waging a veritable campaign to prepare public opinion for his execution. According to an anonymous source close to the family: “The situation in the Kurdistan region (of Iran) is very tense following the fighting with PJAK and the death of border guards (…). For the last few weeks certain sites run by the IRGC [pasdaran] and the Intelligence Ministry are daily publishing articles to justify Ramin’s death sentence”. Panahi’s lawyer, Hussein Ahmadi Niyaz, who is also defending other political prisoners as well as the schoolgirls who were victims of the fire at their school at Shin Abad (Piranshahr) in 2012, was himself briefly arrested on the 5th at Sanandaj, a town he had visited to follow up Panahi’s case. He was released on bail but… The reason given was that he had not attended to a summons by a Revolutionary court charging him for having granted interviews to foreign media… However on the 15th Niyaz published a joint declaration with two other colleagues in which they indicated that they had been informed by Panahi’s family that he had been transferred two days before and without his consent from Sanandaj to the Rajaei Shahr Prison in a Western suburb of Teheran (VOA). This transfer, carried out without informing the family, is illegal, as prisoners should be detained near their homes and their family unless they themselves ask for a transfer. On the 27th Ramin’s brother, Amjad, declared that the condemned prisoner had started a hunger strike and had been placed in isolation during the night, an operation during which he had been wounded by one of the guards. “We think he may be in one of the Teheran hospitals but at this moment we do not even know (…) if he’s been hanged or not” stated Amjad (Kurdistan 24).
Other political prisoners from whom, as with Panahi, confessions had frequently been obtained by torture, are in danger of execution. On the 19th, Amnesty International called on Iran to review its decision to execute Kamal Hassan Ramezan, a Kurd from Rojava arrested at Urumieh in 2014 and accused, at the end of an iniquitous trial without even a lawyer, of having taken part, in 2011 in an armed attack by PJAK in which a pasdar had been killed. On the 23rd another prisoner, the writer Ali Baderkhani, was severely beaten by common law prisoners encouraged by a prison officer. After a one-week hunger strike, Baderkhani was promised a transfer to the political prisoners’ quarter. In fact he was transferred from the isolation cell to the quarter of the workers who beat him up. Baderkhani has published several works under the pen name of Shiwan, including Democracy and the Kurds.
Journalists trying to defend the rights of their fellow citizens are also repressed. This is the case of the Human Rights defender Ejlal Ghavami, who was summoned for the third time in a few months for interrogation at the offices to the Sanandaj offices of the Iranian Intelligence. At first investigated regarding the anti-government demonstrations last January, Ghavami had been accused in March of spreading false news and anti-government propaganda. He was acquitted but the prosecutors appealed against this decision, so he must appear before the Appeal Court in November. He thinks this fresh summons is linked to the opening of a new file against him…
Regarding other news, in the morning of the 26th an earthquake of a magnitude of 6.0 killed at least two people in Kermanshah Province and injured 300 others. Its epicentre seems close to the town of Gezen (Kermanshah), it was felt as far away as Erbil and Baghdad.
On 1st August, the Iranian Kurd Caucher Birkar (a name that could be translated by “the nomadic mathematician”; since bîrkarî means “mathematics”), 40 years old, a refugee in the United Kingdom since 2000, received at Rio de Janeiro with three other prize-winners the Field medal, a distinction considered equivalent to the Nobel prize for mathematics. Birkar, who lectures at Cambridge University, was rewarded for his contribution to the geometric studies on the Fano Plane. The Field medal, created at the end of the 19th Century, is awarded every four years since 1936, during the international mathematics Congress, to a maximum of four mathematicians of under 40 years. After receiving his award, Birkar alluded to the Kurdish people in a twit telling “I hope that this news will bring a smile to the faces of 40 million people”.
The award of the Field medal to Birkar received as more publicity than the one voted a few minutes later andwas given to him at the same time as a wallet received at the dame time as the wallet and into the pockets owhuch he had placed them both.
The awarding of the medal to Birkar was all the more publicized as it was stolen from him a few minutes after he received it, along with his wallet, in the small bag where he had placed both! Beyond its highly symbolic value, the medal is in 14 carat gold and is worth about 3.440 €. Birkar received however a replacement medal quite quickly, the organizers having prepared in case of any unforeseen event a 5th medal on which his name was engraved again…
On the 6th August the Turkish authorities moved a Turkish bath building (hammam) dating back from the 14th Century, built at Hasankeyf, to preserve it from being engulfed in the waters of the reservoir lake created by the Ilisu Dam. The operation, which has required enormous financial means has been given still a greater amount of publicity. The building was placed on a rolling platform, especially made to measure, and it took many hours along a specially built road to bring it to its new site, 2 km from the earlier one, inside a “cultural park” created close to the old town. Last year a tomb dating from the 15th century and weighing over 1.1 tons had already been moved there. Six other buildings are due to join them and, according to the governor of Batman province, Ahmet Deniz, “the new Hasankeyf will be a touristic pearl” (Anadolu). But the Ilisu Dam, a part of the gigantic Southeast Anatolia Project (“GAP”, for Anadolu Güneydoğu Projesi) is strongly criticised for the destruction it will create of the region’s heritage since it will engulf the city of Hasankeyf, that is 12,000 years old, a former trading post on the Silk Road, with its vestiges of so many periods: Roman, Byzantine, Umayyad, Abassid, Marwanid, Ayyubid, pre-Ottoman, Ottoman… Although it is now presented as an “integrated development project”, the GAP aims essentially at bringing hydro-electric resources to the West of the country, hungry for energy. It is also generating tensions with neighbouring countries downstream of the Tigris and the Euphrates, Syria and Iraq, to whom it cut the water supply, aggravating their chronic water shortages. In June, Turkey announced it would suspend for one month the filling of its reservoirs lakes after a complaint by Iraq.
On the 24th the Ministry of National Heritage of the British Government, Michael Ellis, announced its awarding of a budget from its Cultural Protection Fund to protect several unique archaeological sites in Iraqi Kurdistan dating from over 10,000 years. The Fund is concerned with regions affected by conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, and is financing 9 projects. Two zones of Kurdistan are concerned: the region of Garmiyan and the town of Amêdî. Garmiyan suffered continuous damage during the recent period as it lies on the front line in the Iran-Iraq war, also suffered during the period of repression of the Kurds by Saddam Hussein in the 1990s, and is now quite close to the front line of the struggle against ISIS. Glasgow University has received more than 300,000 pounds to evaluate the damage in the region, that it will do with the help of satellite and aerial imagery, and will issue proposals of solutions for preservation. The British team will also train local archaeologists and collaborate with teachers in local schools to enhance during the classes the understanding and value of the cultural heritage. Regarding Amêdî, the project, that received 100,000 pounds, aims to document this town’s heritage and collaborate with the local authorities in its protection (www.gov.uk).