The latest news from Iranian Kurdistan this month were marked by an intensification of the repression against Kurdish activists, and in particular by the regime’s State terrorism, with the firing of several rockets on Saturday 8th September at the headquarters of both branches of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), near the town of Koya, in Iraqi Kurdistan, which caused 17 deaths and over 40 injured (a later revised assessment estimated over 50 injured). On the same day three Kurdish political prisoners were executed by hanging in Rajai Shahr prison at Karaj, Ramin Panahi and his two Moradi cousins.
Furthermore, the regime’s forces of repression are continuing their murders of the Kurdish cross-border porters or kolbars. The appalling economic conditions oblige an increasing number of Kurds to enter this dangerous trade for mere survival, since they only earn about a dozen dollars per journey and risk being shot in cold blood by the repressive forces who consider them just as smugglers. They are, however, no threat, being themselves unarmed. On the 4th one of them, originally from Baneh and father of a child, was killed near Piranshahr. On the 10th, according to the Washington Kurdish institute (WKI) two porters were targeted by gun-fire near Urmiah, one of them was killed and the other seriously wounded. Then another was shot down on the 18th near Mariwan. On the 22nd the Association for the defence of Human Rights Hengaw reported another murder of the same kind near Chaldiran, not far from the Turkish border. In a recently published report, covering the Kurdish provinces of Western Azerbayjan, Kurdistan and Kermanshah, Hengaw lists the victims of these shootings as 14 wounded and 1 death during one week and at 21 killed and 45 wounded during the last six months. This organisation also records 11 deaths and 27 injured by other causes (accidents, health problems…) amongst which 2 killed and 8 injured by anti-personnel mines are also due to the repression: it indeed remains mines from the Iraq-Iran war, but the pasdarans (Revolutionnary Guards) have recently laid others, aimed at the kolbars and fighters of the Kurdish opposition parties…
In the 7th the pasdarans announced they had killed 6 members of a group of the Kurdish PJAK party, which had attacked a border post on the Iraqi border on 20th July, killing 10 of them (Reuters). On the afternoon of the 10th the KDPI announced that pasdaran had crossed the Iraqi border while other local witnesses spoke of a concentration of troops on the Iranian side. Whatever the facts, the incessant shelling by artillery the week before had sparked off several forest fires and made 200 families of the Balakayetî region flee. According to Rûdaw, “Iran has set up an artillery base in Maidan valley, which irregularly aims at the Kurdish agricultural lands near the border, giving as an excuse the presence there of armed Kurdish opposition parties”.
However it was on Saturday the 8th that the most serious attack on Kurdish opposition political workers took place. While the dissident branch of the KDPI was holding its Congress in its headquarters at Koya, in Iraqi Kurdistan, it was targeted by rockets that, according to a first assessment, caused 15 deaths and 30 wounded, including children. The Party’s present General Secretary as well as his predecessor were both wounded. In a communiqué issued following this attack, the KDPI blamed the international community for its “absence of pressure on the Iranian regime”, also accusing the pasdarans of having executed two Peshmerga prisoners in opposition to the Geneva Convention. The next day the pasdarans officially confirmed firing seven missiles. The Iraqi Foreign Minister described the attack as a “violation of [Iraq’s] territorial sovereignty”. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) promising to provide assistance to the victims, also condemned it, as did the US Vice-President, Mike Pence, in a telephone call to the KRG’s Prime Minister.
With this attack, the Islamic Republic is continuing its assassinations of opponents abroad, such as those perpetrated against seven PDKI leaders in Austria and Germany in 1989 and 1992. An attack in preparation against a meeting of the People’s Mojahedin was foiled in Belgium recently, and in September, another attempt could well have taken place in Iraqi Kurdistan against Loghman Shahabi. This Kurd from Iran, police officer at Derbandikhan for the last 12 years, was rushed to hospital after being seriously wounded on the 25th by a bullet wound in the head fired by a man equipped with a pistol and silencer. His sister accused Iran and testified that her brother had received several threatening phone calls. Last July the body of Iqbal Moradi was found in a river near Penjwîn. He was known as a defender of Human Rights and political activist… and father of Zaniyar Moradi, one of the three political prisoners hanged on the 8th.
On the 11th Iran demanded that Baghdad and Erbil “deliver to it or expel the criminals of the Iranian Kurdish groups who are still living in their land”. On the 13th the general commander of the pasdarans threatened “the enemies of Iran” with its “missiles having a range of 2,000 km” capable of striking the “arrogant foreign powers” (AFP) — i.e. the United States… The KRG rejected the Iranian demands, pointing out that most of the Iranian Kurdish opponents were refugees, registered with the HCR.
On the same day as the attack on Koya, the Fars news agency announced the execution of Ramin Hossein Panahi and his two cousins Zanyar and Loqman Moradi. Panahi was accused of being a member of the Kurdish Komala party, and the Moradi cousins of an unspecified “separatist terrorist group”. Confessions had been extorted from Panahi by torture and a quite obvious frame up used to charge the Moradi cousins, who were charged with killing four people, including the son of the Imam of Mariwan’s Friday prayers. The regime had been preparing these executions for some weeks past by regularly publishing articles in its own tame press and snapping its fingers at the demands for cancellation by international organisations. Amnesty International reacted to this triple execution by expressing its “horror” and recalling the iniquitous character of the trials, as did the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet (WKI). On the 10th the Association for Human Rights in Kurdistan reported that another Kurdish activist, Kamal Ahmad Nazhat, from Miandoab (Western Azerbaijan), had also been executed for membership of a Kurdish party. According to the records of the Hengaw organisation, Iran had during the 6 last months hanged 44 of its Kurdish citizens and sentenced to death 11 other political activists. Amnesty International figured at least 507 executions in 2017, 31 of which at least were public (Kurdistan 24). On the 12th, a leading cadre of the KRG’s Ministry of Peshmergas indicated that the Iranian Army had entered about 20 km into Iraqi Kurdistan, on the pretext that they were looking for armed Kurdish opponents. They were setting up batteries of artillery and rockets on Mount Surîn (2,000 m high) North of Sulaimaniyah (Middle East Monitor). A Kurdish activist, Soran Balani, added that the strikes against Koya had come from these batteries.
However the barbarous attack and executions of 8th September, far from making the Kurdish opposition bend, has on the contrary reinforced their determination. On the 12th Iranian Kurdistan responded with a general strike very solidly followed especially in the towns of Baneh, Bokan, Kermanshah, Mariwan, Mahabad, Piranshahr, Sanandaj, Shno (Oshnavieh), Sardasht, Saqqez etc. According to Komala this is the greatest action of civil disobedience since the demonstrations of December-January. Hengaw spoke of “mass participation” adding that the regime had sent the Army to control the Kurdish towns and had cur or limited access to the Internet. Dozens of people were arrested, especially at Mariwan, where two activists were taken to the Intelligence office (WKI), while 2/3 of the shops closed and 20 to 30% of the civil servants went on strike. At Sanandaj, 90% of the shops remained closed and arrests were reported, notably those of 2 women activists on the 13th (another one, Hejar Sayêdî, arrested on le 5, was placed in solitary confinement). Simultaneously, in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurds from Iran demonstrated in front of the UN offices in Erbil, and in France and Greece, stones were thrown at the Iranian Embassies — actions condemned by the KDPI, which declared it didn’t want to “act like the regime”. On the 17th a fresh attack on the Iranian Embassy in Greece was launched by the anarchist group Rubicon “in solidarity with the Kurds” (AFP). Finally the HDP spokesman condemned in Turkey the attack on Koya, and its two co-Presidents, Pervin Buldan and Sezai Temelli, sent to both branches of the KDPI a letter of solidarity.
On the day of the demonstrations, the General Secretary if the KDPI, Mustafa Hijri, in a speech televised and published on his party’s site, vowed to intensify the resistance. Recalling that the previous attacks on the Kurds had never been able to put an end to them, he warned that it would be the same this time.
In the morning of the 22nd, armed men opened fire on a military parade commemorating the start of the Iran-Iraq war at Ahvaz, the capital of Khuzistan, the country’s principal oil producing province, whose population is mainly Arabic-speaking and so, for both these reasons a very sensitive region. The attack, which caused at least 25 deaths, 12 of whom were pasdarans, and 60 wounded, was rapidly claimed by ISIS as well as a separatist group, but Iran accused “a foreign regime” supported by Washington — a clear allusion to Saudi Arabia.
Finally, other Kurds accused of activism suffered heavy sentences. On the 23rd, Mohiddin Ibrahimi, arrested in November 2017, was sentenced to death at Urumiah for “membership of KDPI”, at the end of an iniquitous trial held in August, in the course of which, according to Hengaw, he had no access to a lawyer. Ibrahimi, 40 years old, who comes from a village near Shno, was wounded by gun fire and arrested by the security forces while he was transporting goods as a kolbar. He had already been jailed for 14 months in 2010 on the same charge of membership of a Kurdish opposition party (UNPO).
Hengaw reports an intensification of the repression against Kurdish activists during this month, with at least 80 Kurdish citizens arrested against 44 the preceding month, making an 82% increase. Indeed, the province of Urumiah has suffered more arrests, with 43, followed by Sine (Sanandaj) with 36. According to Hengaw the cases of these arrests are: 40 activists of defence of civic rights; 18 of defence of rights at work, 17 political activists, and 1 for religious reasons.
On the 22nd September the families, exiled to Canada, of two Kurdish political prisoners kept in isolation in the premises of the Intelligence Service in Sanandaj expressed their anxiety about them. Indeed, following the arrests of Hoshmand Alipur and Mohammad Ostad-Ghader on 3rd August, Iranian television broadcast on 8th August two videos purporting to show them confessing to participating in attacks on the Army. These confessions, probably obtained by threats or even torture could be used to justify executions similar to those of the 8th September (CHRI, Center for Human Rights in Iran).
Hengaw also noticed on the 27th the death sentence passed on a Kurdish member of the pasdarans (Revolutionary Guards), Arsalan Khodkam, a former Peshmerga who had joined the pasdaran in the 90s, after surrendering. Khodkam is accused of cooperation with the KDPI and espionage.
The demonstrations against the lack of public services and against corruption in the South of the country have intensified. On the 2nd September, nearly 200 people gathered in front of the principal oil field of Nahr Bin Omar, while other demonstrators blocked a border post with Iran (Kurdistan 24). On the 4th some local sources reported 5 dead and 16 wounded in clashes with the police. On the 6th the main access to the Port of Umm Qasr, the principal seaboard access to Iraq, was blocked (ISHM-Epic). On the same day, while the first session of the new Parliament was being held, the leader of the Sayroon alliance, Moqtada Sadr, virtually summoned the Prime Minister and the Governor of Basra to come to Parliament on the 9th so as to resolve the province’s problems.
That evening, the news of the death of 11 demonstrators since the beginning of the month and the treatment in hospital of 6,000 inhabitants, poisoned by undrinkable water, provoked a night of rioting. The inhabitants set fire to the premises of political parties and government buildings (Kurdistan 24). While they did not succeed in approaching the US Consulate, they burned down the Iranian Consulate and briefly took hostages the workers of the oil fields (Reuters). The military Commander decreed a curfew. Following all this violence, the leader of the Fatah alliance called for the Prime Minister’s dismissal. On the 8th work was resumed in the Umm Qasr port, but on the same day the Basra Airport, where the US Consulate is located, was targeted by rockets — without any casualties… On the 18th the assistant spokesman of Parliament, Hasan Karim al-Kaabi, presented a report on the situation in the Province, confirming that 30,000 inhabitants were made ill by drinking water that was too saline. The Speaker of Parliament, Mohammed Halbusi, affirmed that the necessary funds had been released. However on the 25th an MP from Basra, Rami al-Sakini, violently attacked the government for not yet having put forward any concrete solution. On the 27th Abadi dismissed the military Commander of Basra (ISHM). On the 28th several other rockets were aimed at the Airport, still without making any victims. On the 30th the United States announced the closing down of its consulate (ISHM).
In Baghdad the political bargaining in view of setting up a new government intensified to try and succeed before the 3rd — the day on which Parliament should elect its Speaker. On the 1st a Kurdish joint KDP-PUK delegation arrived in Baghdad and, after meeting the outgoing Iraqi Président, Fuad Massoum, had meetings with several lists to negotiate its support of a future government in exchange for answers to Kurdish demands. These include: the reinstatement of Kurdistan’s share to the constitutional 17% of the national Budget, the return of the Peshmergas to the Kurdish “disputed” territories now under Iraqi jurisdiction, and the carrying out of Article 140 of the Constitution, that is a referendum in those territories and most notably in Kirkuk. In parallel, the KDP leader, Masud Barzani, received a delegation from the multidenominational Wataniya alliance, represented by Iyad Allawi and 2 Sunni leaders.
On the 2nd Sayroon (alliance between Moqtada Sadr and the communists), Nasr (Victory), the outgoing Prime Minister’s party, and 14 other political groups announced the formation of the largest Parliamentary block, with 177 MPs from 16 different lists. This could, theoretically, form a government, thanks to its rallying a part of the Sunni Alliance “Axis”. On the same evening the rival group led by the leader of the Shi’ite organisation Badr, Hadi al-Amiri, and former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, affirmed in turn having formed the largest parliamentary block, after having poached 21 MPs from Abadi’s Alliance. This change of camp is the result of a quarrel between the latter and his security chief, Falih al-Fayyadh, who has then joined Amiri’s list. Neither of the two blocks includes the KDP and the PUK.
Weakened by their own lack of unity, the Kurds hoped that this inter-Shi’ite rivalry would reinforce their position in the negotiations. The KDP-PUK block has several times called on the Kurdish opposition parties to join them to form a block of 54 seats — as large as the Sayroon alliance. The Kurdish opposition party “New Generation” preferred to join Abadi’s coalition. Besides, the latter has shown himself to be intransigent on the Kirkuk issue, always putting off any discussion about the province’s administration to later negotiations “between the central government and the Region [of Kurdistan]. On the 3rd, while the new Parliament, unable to elect its Speaker, adjourned until the 15th (ISHM), the KDP announced that, in the absence of any clear response to its demands, it would join neither of the 2 Shi’ite blocks, the PUK adopting the same stand on the 5th.
On the 13th Sadr, like the Ayatollah Sistani, the country’s highest Shiite authority, rejected Abadi’s candidature for the post of the next Prime Minister, pushing the latter out. In the evening, Abadi announced that he respected Sistani’s decision and in the afternoon Sadr and Amiri reached an agreement between the two alliances (Kurdistan 24). On the 15th Parliament succeeded in electing as Speaker the Sunni Arab Mohammed al-Halbusi.
However, KDP-PUK relations became more tense towards the end of the month over the issue of the Iraqi Presidency. Since 2003 this was held, by tacit agreement, by a member of the PUK, which alone presented a candidate, the KDP taking on the Presidency the Kurdistan Region. This sharing of roles worked until the resignation, on 1st November 2017, of President Masud Barzani, whose powers were then shared between the Parliament, the KRG and the judiciary, pending a decision to define the status of the role. Indeed, the Kurdish parties disagree on this issue, the KDP defending a strong President, directly elected by universal suffrage, while Gorran prefers a strong Parliament which will elect the Region’s President. Finally the election of the Iraqi President by the Baghdad Parliament coincides with the Kurdish Parliamentary elections, which after 2 postponements and 11 months delay are held on September 30th…
In its search for a suitable candidate, the PUK turned to its former leader Barham Salih, who had left it in September to create his own “Coalition for Democracy and Justice” (CDJ). After several CDJ-PUK meeting, Salih accepted to return and be the candidate of his original party. The KDP, for its part accusing the PUK of having chosen Salih without consulting them, declared the old agreement had lapsed, claiming the Iraqi presidency following its good results in the last Parliamentary elections. As neither of the 2 parties was ready to give way, the KDP and the PUK have both presented their own candidate — Barham Salih for the PUK and Fuad Hussein, formerly Masud Barzani’s chief of staff, for the KDP. This unprecedented rivalry has pushed the Iraqi Parliament to delay the election of President, originally planned for 2nd October, to follow on after the Kurdish Parliamentary elections. On the 26th the KDP proposed that the Kurdish Members of the Baghdad Parliament appoint a single candidate. While, on the 29th the Wataniya alliance supported this proposal, the PUK candidate rejected it, preferring to rely on the vote of the Parliament as a whole (Kurdistan 24). To obtain the 210 votes needed, any candidate would have to win the support of both the Shi’ite block. These have agreed to vote for the same candidate, but have refused to choose between the Kurdish candidates. Issuing an ultimatum to the KDP and PUK, they threatened to elect candidate of their own choice if these two parties did not agree to a single candidate…
In the territories disputed between Kurdistan and the federal government, taken back by the Iraqis in October 2017, insecurity due to ISIS has remained present all through the month. During the night of the 3rd, a bomb exploded in Khanaqin, fortunately without making any victims. The attack was not claimed. After 3 explosions and some kidnappings in the last few months the inhabitants unceasingly ask for the return of the Peshmergas (Rûdaw). On the 4th the Asayish (Security) of Sulaimaniyeh announced they had broken up a sleeping ISIS cell of 6 men and a woman who were planning attacks. At Kirkuk the jihadists killed 10 inhabitants of the village of Yaychi, while a suicide attack killed 2 policemen in Abasi district. On the 9th the jihadists kidnapped 6 Kurds who were picnicking South of Kalar and decapitated 4, the last 2 having managed to escape (WKI). Other jihadists destroyed an oil pipeline between Kirkuk and Dubiz and a bomb killed someone the same night in Halabja (Rûdaw). On the 13th jihadists attacked the Health Centre near Daquq (Kirkuk), stealing medicines and some medical equipment and kidnapping 2 men, including an ambulance driver. On the morning of the 17th, ISIS attacked the Shi’ite Arab village of Qaya (Khanaqin). Maintaining a gun fight with the police for 30 minutes they set 3 houses and 3 vehicles on fire and wounded 7 people including 2 women and 3 children. In the night of the 23rd Iraqi air strikes near Jalawla killed at least 8 jihadists, the presumed authors of this attack. Another operation the same night killed 2 jihadists near Mount Hamrin (Rûdaw).
Apart from the jihadist insecurity, which the Iraqi security forces seem incapable of mastering, the residents of these territories suffer from the lack of public services similar to those which caused the instability in Basra. On the 6th the inhabitants of Kirkuk protested against the lack of drinkable water, due to frequent cuts of electricity. In certain quarters, where water supply has been cut for the last 3 weeks (Rûdaw), the inhabitants pay a small fortune to buy lorry-mounted tanks of water, which is sometimes so brackish as to be barely drinkable. Other concerns include the continuation of the policy of Arabisation and the brutality of the Iraqi security forces, particularly towards Kurds. On the 12th the leader of the Brayetî (“Fraternity”) block in the Kirkuk Provincial Council, Mohammed Kamal, accused on the KDP website the Federal Police and Hashd al-Shaabi militia of having arrested at Daquq and tortured the previous week about fifteen Kurdish Peshmergas of KDP and PUK forces and Arab civilians, who were forced to confess to imaginary crimes (Kurdistan 24). On the 19th, despite the denials of the police, the Minister of the Interior, Qassim al-Araji, announced the opening of an enquiry (ISHM). Complaints are also made about the Interim Governor of the Province, Rakan al-Jaburi, who continues to replace Kurdish officials by Arabs, arguing that it gives the Province an “egalitarian” sharing of jobs: “32% of posts to each community and the rest to the Christians”. The Kurdish parties, rejecting this argument, demand that the sharing reflect the election results: PUK 6 seats, Arabs and Turcomans 3 seats each (the KDP had boycotted these elections, considering that the province was “occupied”) (Kurdistan 24).
The Provincial Council has not met since October 2017 but the situation could change since on the 11th its Kurdish members met in the premises of the Communist Party in the Qara Hanjir quarter to discuss the resumption of its activities and, for the first time, its KDP members took part. Other meetings will be held regularly to defend the Province’s Kurdish population in the next Provincial elections. A common communiqué declared that the Kurdish parties believe in the peaceful co-existence of ethnic groups in Kirkuk, and that the Kurds, as the principal component of the province, “will not let themselves be marginalised in terms of civil or military governance”. There was also a discussion about a Kurdish common list for the Provincial elections on 22nd December — the first to be held for 13 years because of inter-ethnic tensions. The election of a new Governor to replace Jaburi, appointed by Abadi after the sacking of Nejmeddine Karim depends, Constitutionally, on the Provincial Council…
Among the latest decisions of the interim governor, the setting up of three customs posts to collect customs duties on the Erbil-Kirkuk and Suleimaniyeh-Kirkuk highway was deemed illegal by the Provincial Council, which declared it had not been consulted. On the 30th, following the reopening of the Airport, the inaugural Bagdad-Kirkuk flight carried in an Iraqi Airways plane the interim Governor accompanied by the Iraqi Minister of Transport and other Iraqi officials…
Regarding Customs decisions, on the 24th Turkey and Kurdistan finalised their agreement of 2014 whereby a third passage point, Zete, will shortly be opened near Mergasor. The opening had been suspended by the emergence of ISIS. This did not prevent Turkey from extending, on the same day and for another 3 months, its interdiction of flights to Suleimaniyeh airport, the director of which, Tahir Abdullah, pointed out that “Baghdad has not done anything to help flights to be resumed” (Kurdistan 24).
Kurdistan launched at the beginning of the month the preparing of its Parliamentary elections, that were to take place on the 30th. On the 2nd, Barham Salih, then still head of the CDJ, announced that this party would not participate, challenging the validity of the electoral list (after Salih’s return to the PUK, some members of the CDJ announced their participation) (Kurdistan 24). On the 5th the electoral Commission decided to delay the beginning of the campaign from the 5th to the 11th as certain parties, like Gorran, who also challenged the list system, demanded a postponement — even though, according to the KRG Prime minister Nechirvan Barzani (KDP), no official postponement request was made.
The campaign began on the 11th at midnight and involved 673 candidates and 29 parties for 111 seats, including 30 reserved for women and 11 for minorities (Turcoman 5, Christians 5, Armenians 1). The present Parliament (and present government) are dominated by the KDP (38 seats), followed by Gorran (opposition, 24 seats) then the PUK (18 seats, also in the government) then the Islamic Union (Yekgirtû) 10 seats, and the Jamaa Islamiya 6. The PUK hopes to regain the second place it lost in 2013 to Gorran which was the result of a split in its ranks.
On the 21st the Electoral Commission announced that the 2,500 prisoners allowed to vote (those sentenced to less than 5 years) and the staff of the Health Ministry would not be able to vote, since the ministries concerned had sent in their lists too late, nor could those living abroad because of the lack of funds to set up the organisation. On the 27th the Human Rights Office indicated that it was filing a complaint against the Commission for this “deprivation of rights”. On the 28th the security forces (170,000 members) voted in advance with a very high turnout: Dohuk 93%, Erbil 92% and Suleimaniyeh 89% and for the new province of Halabja 93% (Rûdaw). According to Kurdistan 24, the KDP won 50% of the votes: KDP 79.764 votes; PUK UPK 56.887 votes; Gorran 10.543 and other parties about 16,000 (unofficial figures).
On the 30th the main poll, whose final results will only be known in October took place calmly despite some isolated incidents (some armed people trying to vote without the required documents). The turnout was 61% at Dohuk, 58% at Erbil and 53% at Suleimaniyeh. In the context of violence presently dominating the whole Middle East, and as the dissensions among Kurdish political parties are wide, such an event must be saluted as a true victory for democracy.
Since 1995 the “Saturday Mothers” of Istanbul have demonstrated, like the “May Square Mothers” in Argentina, to demand the truth about the fate of their relatives who “disappeared” in the 80s and 90s. These missing ones were, most often, victims of the extra-judicial executions by the State organisations at the height of their war against the PKK… No serious enquiry has ever been carried out on these cases. The “mothers” gather every Saturday in front of the French-language Galatasaray University, with photos of their relatives. However, on Saturday 25th the police brutally dispersed them by force of water cannons and tear-gas grenades and took in for questioning 50 people, including one of the initiators of the movement, Emine Ocak, 82 years old… On the 1st September the next demonstration, was also practically banned, the police having set up barricades in Galatasaray Square and Istiklal Avenue. The pretext was that the event was “exploited by terrorist groups” close to the PKK (AFP). 300 people, including Members of Parliament of the “pro-Kurdish” HDP and the CHP (kemalist opposition) stood up to the police to read a declaration criticising the ban. In Mr. Erdogan’s Turkey any opposition must be reduced to silence…
On the 3rd the Ankara police prevented some HDP M.P.s from laying a wreath in front of the Iranian Embassy to protest against the imminent execution of the Kurdish political prisoner Ramin Panahi. The HDP Member of Parliament for Ankara, Filiz Kerestecioğlu, was manhandled, some banderoles torn off and 4 people were arrested. As Kerestecioğlu remarked, despite political differences, Turkey and Iran agree on one point — repressing the Kurds (Kurdistan 24). On the 5th, five students of Amasya University were charged with “legitimising or encouraging the violent methods of terrorist organisations”. They had shared Kurdish songs, tweets of the former co-president of the HDP, Selahettin Demirtaş, or Facebook pages of opposition magazines like Özgür Gündem… They are due to be sentenced in November. On the 11th the police arrested 11 people from Izmir Province, including an HDP cadre and jailed the HDP co-presidents of Hatay Province after having carried out raids in their homes in Iskenderun.
The repression also targeted all those who protest against the social injustices of which the State is guilty or dare to criticise the Turkish President’s Pharaonic projects, like Istanbul’s new Airport. On the 21st the workers on that site gathered there several thousand strong to denounce their working conditions (138 deaths in accidents at work that, according to Human Rights Watch “could have been avoided”) and the non-payment of wages for months. They chanted “Workers are not slaves”, but the police attacked with tear gas and truncheons and jailed 400 of them for four days. 43 of them, mostly Kurds, were afterwards charged with “destruction of public property and resistance to the police”. The police also prevented members of the HDP who had come to support the workers from gaining access to the demonstration. On the 29th the HDP held a Press Conference and presented their report on the site, which confirms the deaths and points out the unacceptable working conditions as well as its disastrous impact on the environment (Ahval).
The site Ahval, created by Turkish journalists in exile, has attracted attention on the 4th on the methods used by the police of Nusaybin, who do not hesitate to place compromising documents that they had made up themselves in the luggage of people to whom they were aiming. This is how Sara Kaya, the mayor of the town, was arrested last January, which allowed the government to place the town hall under the control of a pro-AKP “trustee”. The officer who “discovered” the evidence (a letter to the local PKK commander more than a year old but seeming to have been printed the day before) was later arrested for counterfeiting evidence, extortion and torture — but Kaya was not released for all that…
It was also on the 4th that, in the Silivri Prison, near Istanbul, a new hearing was held of one of the 34 cases by the Turkish State against the former co-president of the HDP, Selahattin Demirtaş, held in detention since November 2016, and against whom some 102 different enquiries are being waged… This time, the case was about “directing a terrorist organisation”… Demirtaş spoke from his cell at Edirne through the SEGBIS videoconference system, known for its bad quality, but his fellow accused, Sirri Süreyya Önder, was physically present. Demirtaş and Önder, charged on the basis of their speeches on the 2013 Newroz celebrations, were respectively sentenced to 4 years and 8 months and 3 years and 6 months’ prison “because they defended peace” declared HDP on twitter (AFP). The international observer Margaret Owen testified to the serious irregularities denounced by the defence lawyers, such as the failure to read the charges at the hearing, thus depriving the accused of the possibility of refuting them. Moreover, the original judge and prosecutor are now themselves in jail for complicity with the attempted coup d’état of July 2016, and the accusations are based on a transcription that deliberately erred about the remarks cited, which transform the defendants’ pleas for peace into a call for violence! Demirtaş pointed out that he only received the “evidence against him two days before the hearing so as to hinder his preparation of his defence. However, Demirtaş from his cell, by showing the article in the paper that reproduced the next day his words, as well as Önder’s showed in the middle of the hearing on his computer the real videos of the real speeches by Demirtaş, obtained from Haber TV, both showed the falsity of the accusations and, above all of the transcriptions made by the police. The Court, however, concluded with a scandalous verdict of guilt that dishonours Turkish justice. For a sentence of under 5 years no appeal to the Constitutional Court is possible… The HDP published a communiqué that denounces a political verdict, recalling that the activities for which the defendants are blamed were carried out in the context of the peace process initiated by the government itself. The annex to the HDP communiqué gives the real text of Demirtaş speech for Newroz 2013.
On the 10th six people were sentenced to life imprisonment for the suicide attack with a booby-trapped car against an Army convoy, claimed by the “Hawks for Kurdistan’s Freedom” (TAK). The attack caused 29 deaths on 17 February 2016 in Ankara. 68 people were charged and tried in the context of this process, 50 others are due to be tried separately (AFP).
Repression also still aims at the media, journalists and publishers alike. On the 12th Ragip Zarakolu, the senior editor of the Turkish publishing house Belge, exiled to Sweden since 2013, was the target of an international arrest warrant for a speech he made in 2011 during a Congress of the BDP (Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi, Party of peace and democracy, the regional branch of the HDP). On the same day three new books published by the Avesta publishing were banned for “incitement to hate” — the translations of Chris Kutschera’s The Kurdish National Movement, A-R. Ghassemlou’s The Kurds and Kurdistan and Celîlê Celîl’s Vostaniyé Kurdov 1880 goda (The Kurdish revolt of 1880). These bans follow on 10 others including a History of the Kurds of the Soviet period or a work on the anti-Kurdish genocide of Anfal in Iraq… (SCF)
Still on the 12th a Court in Istanbul decided to keep in detention until their trial 5 journalists of Özgürlükçü Demokrasi, closed down by decree on 8th July last and, despite the contrary advice of the Prosecutor, the release on bail of their colleague Pinar Tarlak. 8 other employees of this periodical will appear free at the next hearing on 6th December. The 14 media professionals are all charged with “membership in a terrorist organisation”. Some HDP Members of Parliament and of the Union of Turkish Journalists (TGS) and the DISK Trade Union as well as the Journalists of Mesopotamya and JINNEWS gathered in front of the court in solidarity.
On the 18th a Court ordered the release of the Journalist Metin Duran, of Nusaybin, on health grounds. Duran had worked for the radio station (closed by decree following the attempted coup d’etat). Placed under intensive care after a heart attack, he was sentenced to 3 years, 3 months and 15 days’ prison. Arrested while on convalescence with his family (his house had been destroyed during the curfew), he had been sent to Ankara to serve his sentence… According to the Turkish Association for Human Rights (İHD) on 2 March 2018, 1,154 prisoners were ill, including 401 in a critical state (SCF).
On the 19th the owners and the chief editor of de Hayatin Sesi, a Leftist Television channel very critical of Erdoğan, closed after the coup d’etat, were sentenced to 3 years and 9 months’ jail. According to Erol Önderoglu, Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters without borders) representative in Turkey, Mustafa Kara, Ismail Gökhan Bayram and Gökhan Cetin are accused of “terrorist propaganda” for the PKK and ISIS… (AFP).
Several foreigners have also been arrested or charged this month, particularly two Austrians of Turkish or Kurdish origin: an HDP candidate to the 2015 elections and a mother of 3 children, both accused of pro-PKK propaganda (SCF). On the 9th the police incarcerated an Austrian journalist, Max Zirngast, for “terrorism”, following a raid on his flat in Ankara. Working for two Left wing papers, Re:volt (Austria) and Jacobin (USA), Zirngast has the doubtful privilege of being the first Austrian arrested without having Turkish or Kurdish origins… This arrest was condemned by his employers, the Austrian government, Reporters sans frontières, and the OSCE of which Turkey is a member (K-24). This could be linked to the recent expulsion of Imams from the Turkish Diyanet by Austria… On the 14th, the private Press agency DHA announced that a former British soldier from Afghanistan, Joe Robinson, arrested in July 2017 while on holiday at Aydın, had been condemned to seven-and-a-half years’ prison for “membership in a terrorist organisation”. Coming to Syria in 2015 to work in the YPG medical services, he had published photos showing himself in military fatigues with their fighters. Robinson appealed and the British Foreign Office declared he was ready to help him (AFP). On the 24th the Germano-Kurdish singer, Hozan Cane, imprisoned since the end of June in Turkey, to which she had gone to sing at HDP meetings, wrote to the German Chancellor to ask her to raise her situation with the Turkish President during his visit. Exiled to Cologne since the 90s, Cane is accused of being a member of PKK following her postings on the social networks (Kurdistan 24).
On the 4th the judges of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) unanimously asked Turkey to modify the article of its Penal Code that punishes the denigration of the State or any of its institutions. It was when Ankara was being condemned for violating the editor Fatih Tas’s right to freedom of expression that the ECHR took this position, then also granting Tass 2,500 euros in compensation for the moral wrong he had suffered. The editor had been sued in 2004 for having published book in which he accused the counter guerrilla forces of having made a journalist “disappear”. Among the 47 State members of the European Council, Turkey, in 2017, was the country with the greatest number of condemnations for hindering freedom of expression, with 16 condemnations out of a total of 44 (Reuters).
On the 14th the mayor of Villeurbanne, Jean-Paul Bret, hosted a ceremony of support for several Kurdish elected representatives imprisoned in Turkey. In the course of this event he met the HDP representative in Europe, Eyyup Doru, as well as Thierry Lamberthod, President of Amitiés Kurdes Lyon (Lyon Kurdish Friendships) (Viva, Villeurbanne).
Finally, 10 days before the controversial visit of the Turkish President to Germany, planned for the 27th to the 29th, a controversy broke out between the authorities and the Kurdish community about the demonstrations the latter hoped to organise to denounce this coming. Indeed, a gathering on the 29th at the Brandebourg Gate, in Berlin, was banned. Accused of supporting Erdoğan, the police replied that the ban was due to the construction of a grandstand for Germany’s National Day, which would take on 3rd October on the same place. Finally, the Kurdish community decided on a march on the 28th. The Turkish President arrived on the 27th with bodyguards, some of whom were known since the events in Washington in May 2017 for their brutality towards peaceful demonstrators. They had been then forbidden to enter Germany for the G20 of 2017 (Rojinfo). On the 28th a gathering of several thousands of participants took place, organised by the “Erdogan Not Welcome” Collective. In the evening a State dinner was organised in Berlin in Erdoğan’s honour by his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeyer, but was cold shouldered by part of the German political class, who considered this State visit and the associated honours to be excessive. Mrs Merkel did not attend it either. On the 29th the Turkish President inaugurated in Cologne the largest mosque in Europe, financed by the Union of Turco-Islamic Businesses, closely linked to the Turkish authorities in power. Like the banquet in Berlin, this inauguration was cold shouldered by many of the political leaders in the Land.
Turkish military operations continued in the Kurdish regions of the country as well as in the neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan. At the end of August, the Army forbade entry into Dersim to an HDP delegation that had come to examine the forest fires that have been burning for several weeks… On the 3rd the Army imposed a curfew on several villages of the Lice district (Diyarbakir) while helicopters bombed the district of Hazro (WKI). On the 12th two unlimited curfews were imposed on 116 Kurdish villages and hamlets in Diyarbakir in preparation for an offensive against the PKK — especially at Lice, Hazro, Kulp, Silvan and Kocaköy. On the 17th the Governor of Siirt announced a curfew on 5 villages that were lifted in the morning of the 19th. The Army, in parallel, launched an operation near the Mount Cudî (Şırnak), also starting forest fires there according to several testimonies. In Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkish fighter-bombers raided the Amêdî region for the 3rd time in a week, again provoking forest fires (Rûdaw). On the 16th the Army announced it had “neutralised” a PKK cadre, Murat Akdoğan (pseudonym Ali Gever) in an air strike on Avasin-Basyan, carried out on the 14th. Finally, on the 30th a communiqué of the General Staff announced the neutralisation of 6 PKK fighters at Gara and of 8 others at Avasin-Basyan and Metina, as well as the death of a soldier and 4 others wounded by the explosion of an improvised explosive device (IED).
On the 19th the organisation for the defence of Human Rights Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a report, issued a warning to Turkey regarding its air raids on Iraqi Kurdistan. Examining 4 different operations carried out between May 2017 and 2018, HRW pointed out that civilian deaths (at least 6) caused by them were unjustifiable in the absence legitimate military targets, and that Turkey had probably breached international law by failing to warn the local authorities in advance. HRW called on Turkey to carry out an enquiry and to compensate the families of the victims.
Still exposed to the resistance of the population and attacks by the YPG, to which they seem incapable of putting an end, the Turks and their Jihadist allies in Afrin continue their abuses of power. On the 15th the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR) published a report (http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=102622) depicting a frightening picture of life there, with kidnappings for ransom, agriculturalists being forbidden to work on their own land, displaced people being forbidden to return home, the extortion of rights of passage at checkpoints… A second report published on the 24th (http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=103211) continues the description of abuses, mentioning, for example, the death under torture of an old man, insisting on the fact that these acts are carried out in the complete indifference of the Turkish occupation forces, which, although responsible for the security of civilians, do absolutely nothing to control their auxillaries. The SOHR “has documented the arresting of over 2,300 citizens, over 800 of whom are still in detention, the others having been released after paying the ransom imposed by the members of the “Olive tree branch” operation, sometimes amounting to over 10 million Syrian lira. The number of victims has increased in the course of the last six months, reaching 364 civilians, including 55 children and 36 women. “A number of these civilians are Kurdish, but there are also Arabs and Armenians, dozens of whom have died from mine explosions or under torture by factions of the “Olive Tree Branch” […]”. What is also continuing is the plundering of goods and the destruction of olive tree plantations, 75% of which have been seized by the occupying militia, who now claim rents on them, or want to hire day labourers who will work for them there! The jihadists also control the majority of soap factories and the “local Councils” that they created to obey them now mean to organise the harvesting and oil pressing. This is a long way from any political commitment (and still further from Syrian revolutionary ideals…), but pure and simple banditry and plundering by these mercenaries at Turkey’s service.
In the city of Afrin itself, while fighting broke out between the rival factions Ahrar al-Sharqiyah and “Olive Tree Branch”, both backed by Turkey (WKI), the explosion of a vehicle (unclaimed) made civilian victims. The YPG clearly distanced themselves from this kind or action, as well as from cases of torture against civilians, for which they accuse groups or even Turkish Intelligence services who are seeking to discredit them in the eyes of the population.
On the evening of the 3rd, at about1 km from the town, the YPG attacked a checkpoint manned by the al-Shamiya Front while also carrying out an ambush against fighters of the same organisation South of Afrin, killing a total of 6 men and a commander. They also claimed that during the whole of August they had eliminated 50 enemy fighters and 2 commanders plus 7 Turkish soldiers, in a total of 18 different operations. For its part, the SOHR gave an evaluation of 112 rebels and soldiers killed since March (Kurdistan 24). On the 9th the YPG claimed the death of 2 more fighters in ambushes, on the 7th a member of the al-Hamza brigades and, the next day, of Ahrar al-Sharqiyah (al-Masdar News / AMN). As a result of their attacks and internal dissent, the level of security for the occupiers became so low that they decided on the 11th to impose an overnight curfew on the city till the next day. Despite a high level of alert, a dozen additional fighters were killed in attacks between the 11th and 17th (AMN), and on the 25th the YPG again announced having inflicted losses on the occupiers: 7 dead between the 19th and 21st in 3 distinct ambushes, one of which enabled the destruction of a T-55 tank of the al-Sham Legion in the Jandaris District.
On the 18th three civilians of Tell Rifaat, held by the PYD, 10 km East of Afrin and South of Azaz, were wounded in a jihadist mortar attack on the town, which Turkey still threaten so occupy. The Turkish threat in facts covers the whole of Rojava: on the 4th, the Turkish Defence Minister, Hulusi Akar, declared to the US Special Representative, Ambassador James Jeffrey, that Turkey wanted the Kurdish militia out of the frontier zone… The Turks especially hope to enter Manbij, but the Americans re-iterated on the 10th that the Turkish-American “road map” drawn up last June does not provide for this. Mr. Erdogan accuses the US of trying to play for time and of not observing their commitment to make the “terrorists” leave the town. Besides, Manbij is unceasingly targeted by bomb attacks. On the 1st September, a bomb wounded two inhabitants, on the 12th another explosion killed a child, and on the 15th yet another one wounded 6 civilians and damaged the local hospital (Kurdistan 24). If observers envisage the possibility sleeping cells of ISIS (like the one dismantled by the SDF in Raqqa in the middle of the month) they also note that Damascus, like Turkey, has an obvious interest in destabilising the town, and know the latter has links with Syrian jihadist movements… On the 24th the Turkish President, while arriving in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly, repeated again his threat of a new Turkish operation in Northern Syria. In the morning of the 17th SDF members and rebel fighters of the “Free Syrian Army” supported by Turkey exchanged heavy fire in a town North of Manbij (AMN). On the 28th the Turkish Foreign Minister published a tribune in the Washington Post entitled “The United States must stop arming the terrorists in Syria”
With air and artillery support from the international coalition, the SDF launched on the 10th the final phase of the Roundup operation against the last pockets still held by ISIS in Deir Ezzor Province, on the East Bank of the Euphrates, close to the Iraqi border. The main aim is capturing the town of Hajin, fortified by 3,000 jihadists, mostly foreigners, who have entrenched themselves there as well as in the neighbouring town of al-Shaafa. The fighting was very violent according to the SOHR, which reports the death of 17 jihadists. The next day, while the AFP reported at least 27 jihadists killed and 10 SDF fighters at Hajin, in the mainly Druze region of Sweida, Southeast of Damascus, 21 of the regime’s soldiers were killed in an ambush by ISIS. On the 14th the assessment for Hajin was 46 jihadists and 15 SDF killed, still according to the SOHR, before a jihadist ambush in a sand storm killed a further 20 SDF (AFP). Then, on the 18th the SDF announced after a night of fighting the capture of a bridge over the Euphrates, downstream of Hajin, between Baghuz, on the Iraqi border and Abu Kamal, that the SDF finally took, liberating two Yezidis before taking Baghuz itself on the 20th. There they took a quantity of light arms and announced the elimination of 31 jihadists. On the 26th ISIS made a counter attack on Baghuz, using suicide attacks and IEDs (AMN). On the 30th the SDF announced they had killed 49 jihadists and were going up North towards Hajin along the Euphrates…
The Syrian Democratic Council’s (SDC) discussions with Damascus have been continuing. The SDC is the political expression of the SDF and an elected body of the North Syrian Federation. In the discussions, it is essentially opposing “Decree 107”, issued by the Syrian President in 2011 (after the start of the demonstrations), that strengthens the powers of the central government over the Syrian provinces (VOA). Along the same lines the Minister of “Reconciliation”, Ali Haydar, declared on the 4th that the regions with a Kurdish majority population would enjoy no special treatment for re-joining Syria and that “the Kurdish groups linked to America should now turn away from it” (Reuters). The co-president of the SDC, Riad Darar, told VOA that the discussions had not gone very far yet but that both parties had agreed to set up joint committees to supervise the re-establishment of public services in the zones controlled by the SDC, on the same lines as the agreement reached in July on the management of the Tabqa dam. On the 8th some clashes between the Syrian forces and the Asayish (Kurdish police) erupted in Qamichli, causing 11 deaths and 2 wounded amongst the first and 7 deaths amongst the second (SOHR). The explanations from each camp were at odds, the regime’s troops would have refused to get out of their vehicle at an Asayish checkpoint, prompting the Kurds to open fire, or else had tried to arrest civilians in a Kurdish-controlled area. The official SANA Agency denounced an “ambush” while the Asayish accused the soldiers of opening fire first… The SDC, as from the 9th, expressed its “regrets” and denounced the incident as an attempt to sabotage the discussions taking place. Its leader, Ilham Ahmed, reaffirmed her determination to reach a peaceful resolution but warned that the SDC would not capitulate after the sacrifices made to establish the Federation. After the governor of Hassakeh had on the 11th threatened a military attack, the YPG’s spokesman, Nuri Mahmud, calling for calm on both sides, officially announced on the 14th the opening of an enquiry into this “unfortunate incident”. On the 30th the Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem, in an interview to Russia Today given on the fringe of the UN General Assembly, attributed the absence of progress in the discussions with the SDC to the “American factor”.
With regard to relations between the North Syrian Federation and the Damascus regime, we must add the municipal elections organised on Sunday 16th by the regime in the regions that it controls, which concerned 18,500 seats. Most of the 40,000 candidates belong to the Ba’ath party and its allies, but one can also find thousands of independents and a few dozen members of the Regime’s “tolerated opposition” (RFI). Boycotted by the armed opposition, this poll was also ignored by the Federation, which did not allow its organisation on the territories it controls. However, it took place in areas where the control is shared, like Hassakeh and Qamichli. These elections took place while the pro-government forces, after intensive bombing and shelling, concentrated around the Idlib region, the last area still held by the rebels.
Finally, inside the North Syrian Federation the authorities are confronted with the simmering discontent of part of the Syriac Christians who, paradoxically, are opposed to the change of the teaching programme in their schools which gives more importance to their mother tongue. The issue is the international recognition of the curricula, a problem which prompted some Syriacs to demand a school programme based on that of Damascus, based on Arabic language (and nationalist propaganda). Other Christians have welcomed the fact that History, Geography or Maths were now taught in Syriac. At the end of the month the discussions were going on between the two camps.