The month of December was marked by the surprise announcement on the 19th by US President Donald Trump of the withdrawal of American troops from Syria. This decision seems to have been talen during a telephone conversation with the Turkish President, without consulting his advisers and particularly the Pentagon senior officials. It provoked the quasi-immediate resignation of the Defence Secretary, Jim Mattis, then that of the US envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, Brett McGurk. Several leading American politicians have described this decision as a betrayal of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Washington’s principal allies against ISIS in the field, who are now left isolated to face the threat of a Turkish invasion. A headline in the Swiss daily Le Courrier summarises this reaction quite well: “Trump crowns the Sultan”. The Pentagon, whose senior officers had recently multiplied their warnings against a too rapid withdrawal, has declined to comment. In France, the Armed Forces Minister, Florence Parly, estimated on the 21st that ISIS was not completely eradicated and that the coalition “still had a lot of work to carry out” (AFP).
The next day, the SDF declared that an American withdrawal would allow ISIS to “rebuild”… But despite the existential danger Trump’s decision puts them in, SDF declared they were wanting to continue the struggle against ISIS in Eastern Syria, where the jihadists’ organisation is now reduced to a pocket along the Iraqi border. SDF’s spokesman, Mustafa Balî, specified that “the American decision had not yet had an impact on the situation in the field”, adding, however, that in case of a Turkish attack, the offensive would stop (AFP).
In Afrin, only just emerging from the violent fighting between several jihadist factions (all backed by Turkey) the YPG have attacked 2 bases: one belonging to the “Sultan Murad” faction at Zere (2 fighters killed) then the one held by the “Free Syrian Army” at Babila (3 fighters killed). The next day opened in Amouda the “International Forum on ethnic cleaning and demographic changes in Afrin”, 3 days of testimony regarding the abuses there (Rûdaw). On the 13th the Turkish Defence Minister announced the death of an officer hit by artillery fire from Tell Rifaat, possibly to justify an attack on Rojava, since he SDF had not claimed any action there. On the 16th the explosion (unclaimed) of a booby-trapped vehicle in Afrin’s al-Hal market, close to the position of pro-Turkish fighters, killed at least 4 of them and 5 civilians. According to the Syrian Centre for Human Rights (SCHR) it also made at least 20 wounded (AFP). On the same day was held at Derik, under the aegis of the anti-ISIS coalition, a meeting between the PYD, the YPG and a delegation from some “Rojava Peshmergas”, trained and equipped by Iraqi Kurdistan. These troops had taken part in the anti-ISIS fight with the KDP. The PYD had never accepted this force’s presence in Rojava, and had rejected their proposal to take up a position on the Turkish border (Rûdaw). On the 29th some YPG snipers killed 3 fighters of the “al-Sham Legion” near Jendairis (AMN).
The Turkish threats to Rojava, yet further increased after Trump’s announcement, have been taken up by the pro-Turkish jihadists of the Syrian opposition. On the 30th November Ahmad Osman, the commander of the Sultan Murad brigade, had already announced that the preparations for an attack East of the Euphrates were under way, accusing “the PKK (of) pretending to fight ISIS in Raqqa (whereas) there is no presence of ISIS in Raqqa, Hassakeh or Tell Abyad”. He added: “The only problem is the presence of American troops in the region” (Ahval). On 12th December the Turkish President had announced an offensive “in the next few days (…) to save the East of the Euphrates from the separatist terrorist organisation”, while Yusef Hammud, spokesman for the Syrian pro-Turkish coalition al-Jaish al-Watani (the “National Army”), indicated that training supervised by Turkish officers had begun (AFP)… The national coalition of the Syrian opposition expressed its support for a Turkish operation “in cooperation with the Free Syrian Army (Asharq al-Awsat), while the Commissioner responsible for the European Union’s foreign policy, Federica Mogherini, demanded that “Turkey abstain from any unilateral action”… Nevertheless, on the 20th, Mr. Erdogan once again woved to eliminate the jihadists and the Kurdish militia from North Syria (AFP). However the next day he announced the postponing of the attack to “some months later” to give time for the American withdrawal to become effective in the field. Turkey continued its concentration of military units and jihadists of the Syrian opposition all along the Rojava’s borders. According to the SCHR “some 35 tanks and other heavy weapons transported by tank-carriers have crossed (…) the Jerablus border post”; about a hundred military vehicles have arrived at al-Bab (Hürriyet), while heavy artillery mounted on tank-carriers has been positioned at Kilis, and other troops all along the border up to Şanlıurfa (AFP). Some clashes have taken place north of Aleppo between the SDF and pro-Turkish rebels and Mr. Erdoğan has repeated his threats (AFP).
Turkish pressure is particularly intense on the strategic town of Manbij, in which are stationed fighters of the town’s Military Council, affiliated to the SDF, together with US and French troops backing the town’s military Council. Although joint Americano-Turkish patrols were started in early November and observation posts set up by the US Army in December all along the borders, some Turkish-backed jihadists attacked SDF positions close to the town. On the 4th, the YPG announced that they had arrested, in July, four members of a sleeping cell belonging to Qiyam, a movement backed by the Turkish Secret Services (MIT) which has ben responsible for bomb attacks in Rojava for several months past. Home made bombs, arms and ammunition were seized.
On the 7th Turkey asked the US to dismantle its frontier observation posts — a demand implicitly rejected by the Pentagon on the 11th when it announced that the setting up of the observation posts had been completed (AFP). Besides, Turkey still accuses the Americans of not really keeping to the “road map” for Manbij negotiated in May 2018, that foresaw the departure of the YPG as well as US-Turkish joint patrols. On the 14th Mr. Erdoğan declared “Either you clean up the town and make the YPG leave or we will also enter Manbij”. On the 26th Cherfan Darwich, the spokesman of the town’s Military Council, declared: “The patrols by the coalition are still taking place, nothing changed”, adding: “We are ready to repell any attack” (AFP).
After the announcement of the American withdrawal, the SDC took various diplomatic initiatives to ensure the security of Rojava. On the 21st its two co-presidents, Riad Darrar and Ilham Ahmed, met the French President in Paris and expressed their concerns to him and asked for some military or diplomatic support. Ilhan Ahmed then declared to the French daily Le Monde that French troops should remain in Rojava at least for the time being and that France should exert pressure on Turkey, its ally in NATO, to avoid an attack, which could endanger Europe if it enabled the jihadist prisoners held by the Kurds to escape. According to Reuters the French diplomats are said to have discussed with the Americans the necessity of following up with the anti-ISIS struggle. The SDC also called for the setting up of an air exclusion zone over the territories it controls (Kurdistan 24), taking up the idea launched on the 4th by the US representative for Syria, James Jeffrey. Recalling the exclusion zone created in 1991 over Iraqi Kurdistan, Jeffrey had suggested an identical arrangement covering North Syria, which could be confided to the United Nations (Rûdaw).
Since the French President, Emmanuel Macron, had declared on the 23rd that he “deeply regretted” the American decision, considering that “an ally must be reliable”, Turkey warned France on the 25th against any support of the SDF (AFP). On the 27th the French Minister of Defence declared that “the mission of the troops deployed in Syria has not changed”, adding that the heavy artillery battery “Force Wagram” continued from Iraq to support the SDF offensive against the last pockets of jihadists near Hajin. Some photos of French troops patrolling between pro-Turkish rebels and pro-SDF fighters in Manbij have appeared on Internet. On the 30th the Rojava representative in France, Khaled Issa, met François Hollande to “examine the situation in Syria”. The former French President declared that he hoped the international community would take a stand to put an end to Turkish threats, which might cause an upsurge of terrorism well beyond Syria (Rojinfo).
The Kurds have also turned towards Damascus: as from the 21st the SDF indicated they were ready to return Manbij to the regime if they were guaranteed a degree of autonomy (Sputnik). On the same day, in Moscow, a SDF delegation called for regular forces to be sent and not the pro-Iranian Shiite militia, as those sent to Afrin before the Turkish invasion. Following these contacts, the pro-Turkish Syrian opposition worried that the American departure would lead to a return of the regime to the areas held by the Kurds and asked Washington to co-ordinate with them (AFP). For its part, the Syrian Kurdish National Council (SKNC), although close to the Iraqi KDP and in opposition to the PYD in Rojava, has none the less called on the international community to prevent a Turkish invasion East of the Euphrates. This position seems largely due to the crimes and abuses perpetrated in Afrin after the Turkish invasion (Kurdistan 24). The Turkish pro-AKP press (Hürriyet, Daily Sabah) has nevertheless preferred to interest itself in several articles published on the 27th on the differences between the SKNC and the YPD.
On the 25th the Syrian Army entered the area separating Manbij from the Western areas held by pro-Turkish rebels. According to pro-Turkish sources a convoy consisting of about 40 troop transporters, two tanks, some lorries and armoured vehicles took up position at the entry of the town of Arimah. On the 27th there were rumours of the possibility of Egyptian mediation, following a visit to Manbij by some Intelligence officers from that country. The eventuality of a fresh Turkish invasion to Syria seems to worry several Arab countries (Kurdistan 24). On the 28th the Syrian Army affirmed it had entered Manbij — an information denied both by the SCHR, the local leaders and the Centcom (American Central Command). Turkey expressed its anger, declaring that “terrorists do not have the right to appeal to anyone whatsoever” and the Turkish President expressed his doubts about the effective presence of Syrian troops: “They might have hoisted their flag but there is no certainty about what is happening there” » (AFP). On the 31st the YPG pointed out that they had accepted the return of the Syrian Army to Manbij “to be able to concentrate on the fight against ISIS” (Sputnik).
Moreover, after the initial announcement, the US orientation seems to have evolved. On the 23rd Donald Trump was already talking about a departure “slow and extremely coordinated” with Turkey, and, if the Pentagon has not yet settled on an official position, several officers suggested that the SDF keep the weapons provided to them for fighting ISIS. On the 30th a Republican Senator, Lindsey Graham, pointed out, after having lunch with the President, that the latter had agreed “to slow down” the withdrawal and promised to discuss with the Turks ways of creating a buffer area…
Despite all these uncertainties, the SDF have been pursuing their offensive against ISIS. The fighting has been particularly fierce, these jihadists driven to the brink being the most seasoned troops of the organisation. At the beginning of December Jaysh al Thwar (“The Rebels’ Army”) an Arab SDF unit that had already fought at Kobanê in 2014, repelled an attack launched on 30th November on 3 fronts near Hajin, Baghouz and Soussa (WKI). On the 4th the SDF commander Redur Xelîl announced that, with Coalition air and artillery support, they had taken back several of Hajin’s quarters, after violent fighting. According to the SCHR, between the 4th and the 6th, the SDF “had liberated 1,000 civilians, mostly women and children” (AFP). On the 7th nine civilians, including 6 children, were victims of an air strike. On the 9th, following an ISIS counter-offensive, which enabled it to take back a considerable part of Hajin, the SDF were reinforced with 500 fighters, which brought their strength up to 17,000. Then on the 10th they took control of Hajin’s central hospital, in which the jihadists had dug themselves in, as well as the town of Hawama (Kurdistan 24). In the 12th, after having repelled several counter-attacks with booby-trapped cars, they held 70% of the town, fighting continuing round pockets of jihadists in the Eastern quarters and at Southern Baghouz. On the 12th the SDF announced having “liberated the town centre and the great mosque and having killed 71 jihadis. Finally on the 14th the SCHR announced the recapture of the town — the jihadists being now confined to the edge of the town and in a network of tunnels (AFP). On the 23rd, after a counter-attack was repulsed and fighting was continuing around al-Chafaa, Soussa and Baghouz, the SDF announced having helped over a thousand civilians held by ISIS to escape and killed 97 jihadists. The SCHR estimated that over the last six days over 5,500 people had fled from the fighting, “mostly families of jihadists”, amongst whom some fighters tried to hide. On the 25th the SDF announced having found 262 of them hiding amongst the civilians. On the 27th the SCHR estimated that 11,500 civilians had fled since the taking of Hajin, 15,000 since September and that the SDF were holding 700 fighters (AFP).
The fate of prisoners, including 584 women and 1,250 children continues to concern their country of origin… On the 26th a Belgian Court ordered the repatriating within 40 days of six Belgian children, with a penalty of €5,000 per day late and per child. Belgium had justified its inaction by the lack of consular representation in Syria. However the judge considered that, in order to make contact with the officials responsible for the al-Hol camp, close to the Iraqi border, where are the children and their mothers, the State could, if necessary, resort to diplomatic personnel and/or consular of any other country of the EU. A representative of the North Syrian Federation had criticised from Brussels last October the inaction of the European countries (AFP).
The former co-President of the “pro-Kurdish” HDP (Democratic Peoples’s Party) and candidate for the Presidential elections Selahattin Demirtaş will remain in prison. Such is the decision of the 4thDecember of the Court of Appeals to which Demirtaş had protested against his sentence on 7th September to 4 years and 8 months for “terrorist propaganda”. His release had already been refused a first time on the 30th November, although the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) had demanded it “as soon as possible”. Turkey had played skilfully: by setting up this trial separately from the other ones and demanding a short sentence, it had secured a rapid verdict. This rejected appeal technically ends the remand in custody — which had already lasted 2 years. In this way they can keep Demirtaş in prison without formally confronting the ECHR… Besides accused of “terrorist activities”, he still faces 142 years imprisonment —a means of eliminating him from the political scene forever.
On the 12th, the day of his first hearing since the ECHR ruling, at the F type prison complex of Sincan, one hour’s drive from Ankara, foreign diplomats and journalists were again barred from entering (AFP). The charge is based on statements made back in 2016 and 2017 and published in the press at the time. According to the testimony of the jurist Margaret Owen, Demirtaş, who described himself as a “political hostage”, accused both the judge and the Public prosecutor of being incapable of judging him equitably: “You have treated as true evidence that is both falsified and made up (…). These lies are even shown as such in the ECHR file” His lawyers, pleading the illegality of the proceedings, formally demanded the change of the magistrates and the transfer of the case to others. The Prosecutor answered with only a few words to the Defence file of 100 pages, before, unsurprisingly, the Court ruled as to maintain the accused in jail, while his demand of a change of magistrates was sent to another Appeal court. The trial has been adjouned till 23rd January.
Demirtas’s trial is all the more scandalous since a woman jihadist and member of ISIS, Ayşenur İnci, for whose capture a reward of 326,000 € was offered, was released 3 days after her arrest at the Habur Border post! (Ahval, Cumhuriyet)
In the course of this month, the hunger strike launched on 8th November by Leyla Güven in her prison in protest against the solitary confinement of the jailed PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan, and of the repression hitting Kurds, has become a real collective movement amongst the Kurdish activists and prisoners. Paced in solitary confignment in his island prison of d’Imralı, in violation of the United Nations’ Convention against torture, Öcalan has been unable to meet his lawyers since April 2011 and prevented from receiving visits from relatives since September 2016… Some militants of the HDP office in Erbil had joined the movement on 20th November then, on the 27th, Sebahat Tuncel, co-president of the Party of Democratic Regions (DBP), a regional component of the HDP, and 14 other women political prisoners joined the hunger strike in turn. This rendered furious the authorities, which charged those fasting with “membership of a terrorist organisation” or placed in solitary confinement those who were already in jail.
On the 3rd December, the HDP co-president, Pervin Buldan, and 10 Members of Parliament, announced a two-day fast in Parliament in solidarity with the 9 fastting members of the party arrested the day before at Mersin.
The movement has also spread abroad: on the 7th, while Leila Güven had been on hunger strike for 30 days, about fifty people joined the hunger strike in the premises of the CDKF (Kurdish Democratic Council in France) in Rue d’Enghien in Paris, in solidarity with the thousands of Kurdish political prisoners already on hunger strike in Turkish prisons. Other fasts have begun in Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Marseille, Toulouse and Montpellier and elsewhere in Europe (Germany, Greece, Cyprus, Austria and England). All are also protesting against the inaction of the governments of the European Union in the face of the repression carried out by Erdoğan and the AKP in Turkey. They demand sanctions against Turkey, the release of political prisoners, including Öcalan, a negotiated political solution to the Kurdish question in Turkey and the removal of the PKK from the list of terrorist organisations. In France several Left political parties (PCF, the Left Party, NPA…) have expressed their support for these demands. On the 11th the Bordeaux Kurdish Democratic Centre, based on Cenona, has started a hunger strike (Sud-Ouest).
On the 17th, Sebahat Tuncel, co-president of the Democratic Party of the Regions (DBP), imprisoned since November 2016 in a Kocaeli type F prison, was placed in solitary confinement for ten months because she went on hunger strike (RojInfo). On the 18th, the 41st day of its co-president’s hunger strike, the DTK launched an appeal to support her.
In parallel to Turkish Government has again increased the number of arrests and sentences of leading HDP members, to silent the party and prevent it from attaining the 10% threshold in the local elections next March… On 4th December the appeal of the former HDP vice-co-president, Sırrı Süreyya Önder, sentenced initially to 4 year and 6 months jail, was rejected and he has been incarcerated (Ahval). On the 5th the Supreme Court confirmed the sentence of 7 years and 6 months on the former M.P. Idris Baluken (HDP), arrested in 2016 for “membership in a terrorist organisation”, against which his lawyers had appealed (WKI). On the 9th the police arrested 47 people in a raid on the Urfa HDP premises and also arrested the HDP leader in Mersin, Havva Tekin. On the 10th the former HDP M.P.s Osman Baydemir and Leyla Birlik were sentenced at Şırnak to 18 months jail for having “broken the law on meetings and demonstrations” during the demonstrations of 2015 following the imposition of curfews in Turkish Kurdistan (Ahval, Mezopotamya). On the same day, during raids involving hundreds of armoured vehicles on HDP premises in Ankara, Diyarbekir, Batman and Van, the police arrested at least 53 hunger strikers, mainly women: 25 at Diyarbekir (including an 80 year-old woman), 29 at Batman and 14 at Van (VOA, Kurdistan 24). In Ankara, 12 peoole were incarcerated, including journalists. In Van, Yadisen Karabulak, HDP provincial co-president, was sentenced to 15 monnths imprisonment for having clicked “Like” on a Facebook message: “terrorist propaganda”.
On the 17th, 8 Kurdish students were arrested in Dersim for links with some Kurdish parties. At Urfa, Mustafa Bayram, co-mayor of the Halfeti district, stripped of office and replaced by a “trustee” in 2016, was sentenced to 9 years and 4 months prison for “membership in a terrorist organisation” alongside 4 co-accused who received 8 to 9 years. On the 19th the police arrested HDP members and supporters at Iğdır, including the forme M.P. Kıznaz Türkeli and the former co-mayoresse of the town (stripped of office as well), Şaziye Önder. Six people were released but 3 others, including the HDP regional leader, were charged with “membership in a terrorist organisation” (Ahval). On the 24th the army arrested 3 Kurdish activists in Lice (Diyarbakir) in a series of raids. In 2 districts of Van Province the arrest of 12 people provoked demonstrations in the town.
The repression of journalists, academics and in general, of all members of civil society having opposed the abuses of power, is also continuing. On the 5th the journalist Rojhat Doğru arrested in Istanbul, appeared by video-conference before a court in Diyarbekir. He is accused of “membership in a terrorist organisation” on the grounds of an interview of PKK members 2 years earlier for the Iraqi Kurdish channel Gali Kurdistan, of which he had posted some extracts on his Facebook account (CPJ, Mezopotamya). On the same day the journalist Kamil Demirkaya was arrested in Rumania following a Turkish request for her extradition for membership in the gulenist movement. On the 14th the Romanian court rejected the request.
On the 6th Hasan Cemal, a journalist in the T24 website was interrogated by a Prosecutor following an accusation of “insulting the President”. On the same day began the trial of Kamil Tekin Sürek, a lawyer and journalist on the Evrensel site, accused of the same charges following an article he wrote entitled “The fascist dictatorship”. At the second hearing of the trial of 14 of the employees of the pro-Kurdish journal Özgürlükçü Demokrasi, the Court decided to keep 5 of them in prison (CPJ). Last, the Istanbul Prosecutor General issued a fresh mandate for the arrest of Can Dündar, in exile in Germany. He is this time charged with responsibility for the Gezi demonstrations in 2013…
The 1,128 “Academics for Peace” who had dared to signed, in early 2016, a petition against the “security operations” launched in 2015 in Turkish Kurdistan (200 civilian deaths and half a million people displaced) and for the resumption of negotiations, continue to pay for their courage. Most of them have lost their posts and many have had their passorts annulled, and more than 500 of them have been sentenced for “terrorist propaganda”. On the 11th one of the best neurologists in Turkwey, Dr. Gencay Gursoy, 79 years old, former president of the Medical Association of Turkey, was sentenced to 2 years and 3 months in prison. He had already been fired from his University post after the 1980 Army coup d’état. The Court refused to reduce his sentence because he “showed no sign of remorse” (Kurdistan 24). On the 19th 8 scientist signatories were sentenced, including Dr. Sebhem Korur Financi, a worldwide known medico-legal expert and a specialist in torture prevention, former President of the Istanbul Institute of forensic medicine and current President of the Turkish Human Rights Federation. Amongst the others sentenced are Dr. Ayşe Erzan, a long standing activist for Peace and Womens’ Rights and Dr. Azdemir Aktan, former President of the Medical Association of Turkey, fired from his teaching post at Marmara University…
Finally, the anti-Kurdish obsession of those in power in Turkey is growing still further. The Kurdish woman singer of Iran, Yalda Abbasi, originally from Khorassan, was arrested on the 16th at Istanbul Airport where she had just arrived to take part in a cultural event, accompanied by her mother. She had already visited Turkey on a number of occasions (Kurdistan 24). On the 16th the Ahval site, created by Turkish journalists in exile, reported thar at Elaziğ, the prison administration refused detainees to have books in Kurdish for “interior security” reasons. Some prisoners also complained in their letters about torture — about fifty of them are in solitary confinement, including some old or ill people. The lawyer Abdullah Zeytun, President of the Diyarbakir office of the Human Rights Association (İHD) confirmed the existence of torture in virtually all Turkish prisons, adding that prison visits by members of the Association, who might give evidence, were forbidden access.
On 25th December Turkey protested to Google about a map of Kurdistan posted on Google Earth by an user and demanded its “immediate” withdrawal. Google complied the next day, justifying the withdrawal by a “violation of its terms of service”. On the same day, a 40-year-old father and his son of 16 were victims at Sakarya of a racist attack by an Turkish ultra-nationalist, who fired at them when they told him they were Kurds. The father was seriously inkured and his son killed outright,
In this particularly difficult context, the HDP continues to prepare for March local elections. On the 5th its co-president, Pervin Buldan, declared on the information site Artı Gerçek that the party wanted to end the power of unelected “trustees” in the East of the country and would remove from power the AKP and its extremist partner the MHP in the cities of the West. To achieve this objective, she added the HDP was ready to support some opposition candidates of the CHP (kemalists) or the İYİ (“Good party”, a break-away from the MHP that refused the alliance with the AKP), two formations that are discussing the possibility of a common candidate for Istanbul and Ankara City Halls. “We will look at the candidates’ profile”, Buldan explained (Ahval). On the same day Ahmet Türk, the 75-year-old veteran of the Kurdish movement and former mayor of Mardin, stripped of office 2 years ago to be replaced by a “trustee”, announced he would be standing again as a candidate. In June 2014 he had won 52% of the votes, 15 points ahead of his AKP competitor. Imprisoned for 3 months after being removed, he had been released for health reasons, a decision for which Erdogan had publicly criticised his Minister of Justice, saying “Türk can still walk” (Kurdistan 24).
The HDP has courageously continued its criticism of the government, denouncing for instance on the 18th Erdoğan’s threats to Rojava, urging him to abandon his “irrational” anti-Kurdish position, calling on national and intermational opinion “not to keep silent” on this issue. After the announcement of the American withdrawal from Syria on the 19th the HDP co-president called on Turkey to do likewise.
On the 24th, according Arti Gerçek, several Kurdish parties in Turkey met to discuss the possibility of an alliance during the coming local elections. Besides the HDP were present the Socialist Party of Kurdistan (PSK), the Democratic Party of Kurdistan-North Nord (PDK-Bakur), the Party for Kurdistan’s Freedom (PAK), the Party for Freedom and Socialism (OSP), and the Azadi Movement. The HDP Member of Parliament for Diyarbekir, İmam Taşçıer, pointed out that the copresident of that party, Pervin Buldan, would take part in the following meetings (Ahval).
Internationally, Turkey finds itself again put on the hotseat in the United States. According to the le New York Times and le Wall Street Journal, the Federal prodrvuters have engaged in an enquiry on the pro-Turkish lobbyists. The affair concerns the former Security adviser Michael Flynn, who has not observed the obligation to register as a pro-Turkish lobbyist until he was obliged to leave the White House because of his relations with Russia. Before Donald Trump’s election, Flynn is said to have taken part in a plot to kidnap the Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen who lives in exile in Pennsylvania and to send him forcibly back to Turkey… Since 2016 Flyn has written and published a number of anti-Gülen reports aimed at making him appear as a “strategic danger to the security of the United States”. Then in the middle of the month it was revealed that the Greenberg Traurig Company had, since last October, been receiving 850,000 dollars from Turkey to try and prevent Congress from taking sanctions against Ankara following the detention of the US pastor Brunson. It hired several firms of consultants (also not registered as lobbyists) whose members held numerous meetings with members of Congress. Other lobbyists have worked for Gulen — but before his break with Erdoğan — like Kemal Öksuz, former President of the “Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasiens”. He was arrested in Armenia at the end of August and extradicted to the US. He pleaded guilty of lying about the origin of the funds used to pay for Congress members’ journeys and is due to be sentenced in February. One of Flyn’s associates, the US-Iranian Bijan Rafiekian, was charged with illegal lobbying for Turkey by a Grand Jury at the same time as the President of the Turkey-US Businesm Council (TAIK), Ekim Alptekin. Both men are accused of having sought to obtain the extradition of Gülen while hiding the Turkish origin of the funds (530,000 dollars) they had received for doing it. Amongst Flyn’s activities are the publication of several articles aimed at discrediting “Mollah Gülen” by comparing him with Ben Laden or Khomeiny…
Finally, the Turkish military operations against the Kurdish fighters is continuing in both Turkey and the neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan. According to the State News Agency Anatolia some air strikes on the 3rd and 4th in Kurdistan enabled the “neutralisation” of at lest 5 PKK fighters and the destruction of several arms caches. However, according to local witnesses these continual air strikes have obliged to close for 10 days the village school of Shiransa (Zakho), as the teachers feared for their lives… On the 7th, Turkey announced it had neutralised 8 Kurdish fighters, then in the evening of the 13th, the Turkish Air Force bombed several villages on the Sinjar, and the Makhmour refugee camp, killing four women, including one of 73 years and a 14 year-old teenager. The next day the Iraqi Foreign Minister summoned the Turkish Ambassador in Baghdad to give him a note protesting at these repeated and unacceptable violations of Iraqi air space (Reuters). A similar strike had already caused several deaths in the camp last year. On the 15th the victims’ funerals brought together hundreds of mourners. In a tweet of the 16th, Nadia Murad pointed out that she had met the Turkish Foreign Minister and asked him to stop bombing the Sinjar so as to allow the reconstruction and the return of the Yezidis there (Kurdistan 24). On the 17th fresh Turkish air strikes hit the region of Bradost. On the 18th the Arab League condemned in its turn the Turkish strikes in Iraq, describing them as violations of international law; its spokesman, Mahmoud Afifi, recalled that Ankara had ignored the previous condemnations, thus showing “its disregard for the Arabic countries” … (Sputnik)
On 2nd December, nearly two weeks after the assassination (by unknown snipers) of Wissam al-Gharawi, a young Shiite cleric who had played an important role in organising the previous protests, hundreds of demonstrators were again over-running the streets of Bassra. They were demanding work, basic services and better living conditions. Amongst these were many teachers and young people (Kurdistan 24). On the 4th the demonstrations began again, sone of the protestors wearing “yellow vests”, similar to those used in France. Many demonstrators have been arrested, only to be releleased on the 6th. On the 14th some videos filmed in Bassra appeared on Internet, showing confrontations in front of the Provincial Council offices — hundreds of demonstrators opposing a candidate who was just being appointed to the post of governor and the security forces, who used tear gas as well as live rounds to disperse them… On the 21st, the security forces again used real bullets to disperse demonstrators once again gathering in front of the Provincial Council building where some of them had tried to enter (Kurdistan 24).
In Baghdad discussions continued to complete the goveernment. At the beginning of December there remained 8 Ministries to be filled: Defence, Interior, Higher Education, Culture, Immigration, Planning, Education and Justice. Each of these appointments has to be individually approved by the Members of Parliament. However, they failed to agree, especially over the important Ministries like the Interior and the Defence. Since 2003 the first of these has traditionally been held by a Sunni Arab. The Iraqi Parliament is dominated by two Blocks: one that includes the alliance Sayroon led by Moqtada al-Sadr, and the Bina, a pro-Iranian coalition led by Hadi al-Amiri. The pro-Iranian candidate for the Defence proposed by the Prime Minister is rejected by Sadr, who demands the nomination of independents. For the Interior Ministry, different Sunni Arab factions are opposing one another. Thus on the 4th, the Parliament was unable to reach agreement over the 8 names proposed by the Prime Minister. For the Interior, Falih al-Fayyadh, the Prime Minister’s candidate, belongs to the pro-Iranian alliance Fatih led by Hadi al-Amiri. Here, too, the Sayroon alliance opposed his election. While several blocks, including the Kurds, boycotted the meeting, hence reducing the number of presents to 169 out of 329, real fighting between M.P. caused the session to be adjourned until the 6th (ISHM). On the 7th the discussions again failed and ended without setting a date for the next session (Sumeria News). On the 12th, according to Rûdaw, the disagreements still worstened between Sunni Arab blocks over the Defence Ministry…
On the 14th, the Speaker of the House, Mohammed al-Halbousi, visited Erbil to discuss these difficultees, Baghdad-Erbil relations and Kirkuk with the Prime Minister of the Regional government (KRG), Nechirvan Barzani. He also met the Head of the Kurdistan Security Council, Masrour Barzani, and the President if the KDP, Masud Barzani. Then, at a press conference held before leaving, he said he was in favour of shared governing of Kirkuk between the KRG and the Federal government and for a revision of the 2019 budget to increase Kurdistan’s share. A Committee chaired by the new Iraqi Finance Minister, Fuad Hussein, former Head of Cabinet of Masud Barzani, will be set up to “protect the rights of the Kurdistan Region” (Kurdistan 24). Halbousi’s visit came the day after the announcement of a joint Kurdo-Arab decision to carry out in 2020 an overall census that could help to “share the resourses more equitably”. Nevertheless, on the 22nd the Kurds and Sunni Arabs persisted in their rejection of the 2019 budget. On the 23rd the Kurdish Deputy-Speaker of Parliament, Bachir Haddad (KDP), while rejecting the budget, called for the postponement of the discussion to the beginning of 2019 (Rûdaw): the Kurds and the Sunni Arabs still demand a re-evaluation of their share. Baghdad offered Kurdistan 8.2 billion dollars against the export of 250,000 barrels of oil per day and proof of the expences incurred from 2004 till 2018 – conditions the Kurds refused.
On the 17th, the Prime Minister, Abdul Mahdi, proposed in a letter to the Members of Parliament to approve first 5 or 6 of the remaining Ministries so that they could begun “to serve the public”, thus postponing the decision for the Defence and Interior Ministries. On the 18th Parliament did confirm the appointment of 3 new Ministers: Higher Education, Culture and Planning, but it rejected the candidates for Education and Migration, demanding the Prime Minister offer new candidates within 48 hours (Rûdaw). The PUK, which had proposed a candidate for Justice initially threatened to boycott the session, the Prime Minister’s candidate being an independent supported by the KDP, then announced, on the 22nd that it was abandoning its demand so that the government would be finalised more rapidly. On the 24th the Ministers of Education and Migration were finally approved but on the 30th the Minister of Education resigned following accusations that some members of his family had had links with ISIS! (ISHM).
In Kurdistan also, there is some question about the future government. Although winner of the regional elections, the KDP, without an absolute majority in Parliament, had to negociate with either the PUK or Gorran. On the 3rd, following a meeting of its Managing Council, it announced it had chosen as candidate for the Region’s Presidency (at present in suspension) the outgoing Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, and as candidate to replace him the Head of the Kurdistan Security Council, his cousin Masrur Barzani (Kurdistan 24). While the PUK announced it “respected” these choices, the new movememt “New Generations”, on the contrary criticised them, accusing the PDK of wanting “to monopolise power” (Rûdaw). The spokesman of the PUK, Saadi Pira, also announced that the post of Deputy Prime Minister, which would come to that party, would be chosen by its Political Committee. Gorran, if it accepts to take part in the government should have the Presidency of Parliament (i.e. the post of Speaker).
Turcomans, like the Yezidis, demanded some Ministerial posts. At the end of November the Turcoman parties, who have 5 seats in the Kurdish Parliament, had presented some joint demands to the KDP: having failed to receive any ministerial posts from Baghadad (they have 3 MPs there, all fom Kirkuk) they demanded 1 post in the KRG. The future Adviser to the Prime Minister on in Minorities could well be a Turcoman (Kurdistan 24). On the 9th , the spiritual Head of the Yezidis, Tahsin Beg, also asked the KDP for a minister and called the KDP to act to help the displaced Yezidis, rebuild Sinjar and liberate the Yezidis still held by ISIS.
On the 11th the KDP and PUK, after a joint meeting of their Political Committees, announced the creation of a joint Committee to negotiate with the other parties. On the 12th the KDP met a delegation from Gorran. According to Rûdaw, Gorran is said to have asked for entering the KRG the posts of Vice-President and Deputy Prime Minister. According to Rûdaw’s sources the KDP is said to have offered the PUK the post of Speaker and a choice between Vice-President and Deputy Prime Minister. The post that PUK does not choose will go to Gorran. However on the 25th the PUK and KDP still failed to reach any agreement, whereas discussions were continuing with the other parties. The PUK also asked the KDP to return to Kirkuk to enable the election of a new Governor…
On the 4th the Asayish (Security) closed the offices of the Tavgarî Azadî party (Movement for a free Society), which is part to the PKK trend, in Suleimaniyeh Province, pointing out that it was not authorised to work in the Kurdistan Region. Denouncing this decision, Tavgarî Azadî answered that it had obtained permission in 2014 from the Iraqi Minister of the Interior and announced it would fill a complaint with the Federal Court. Created in 2014, this party obtained in 2017 the authorisation of the Iraqi High Electoral Commission to take part in last May’s elections. Making a common list with “New Generation”, it won a seat in the Baghdad Parliament (al-Monitor). The first closing of offices occurred at the end of November in Suleimaniyeh, but also at Qala Diza, Raparin, Koya and Kifri. The KCK (Group of Kurdistan Communities, an organisation rassembling the parties of the trend) criticised the pressures of outside powers” – in this instance Turkey. For over a year Ankara has practically forbidden air connections with Suleimaniyeh airport, accusing the local authorities of supporting the PKK… On the 7th an official of this airport has criticised Baghdaad for its inaction in this case. Ankara has favourably welcomed the closure as “a step in the right direction” although “insufficient” » (Kurdistan 24) and on the 24th Ankara extended its ban on flights by another 3 months.
In a completely different area, Iraqis has been confronted for several weeks past with serious flooding. On the 4th the Council of Ministers, after receiving an assessment of the situation, particularly in the Provinces of Mosul (Ninawa) and Salahaddin, decided to grant financial compensation to the victims. On the 6th the European Union published its own report on this flooding (ISHM). Kurdistan is also concerned: on the 8th the officials responsible for the dams at Dokan and Derbandikhan announced that the water level behind the dams had risen by more than one metre in 2 days, complaining on the 10th that the KRG had not answered their calls… (Rûdaw) At Dohuk 3 dams were in danger of collapsing on the 12th and several others several main roads in Suleimaniyeh had to be closed.
Regarding ISIS, two years after al-Abadi proclamed victory on 9th December 2017 there are still attacks by jihadists, even though the latest figures on violence, published on 2 December by the UNO mission to Iraq (UNAMI) indicate some progress. With “only” 41 deaths and 73 wounded, November is the least bloody month in 6 years (ISHM). Nevertheless, after 143 attacks since mid-Novenber the inhabitants of 31 villages of the Khanaqîn district have had to flee their homes. A village chief (mukhtar) complained to Rûdaw on the 13th that Iraqi federal police, officially responeable for the security of the region, was never present at night since the Peshmergas left – 300 jihadists are said to operate in the region.
The anti-ISIS coalition announced on the 3rd an air strike between Kifri and Tuz Khurmatu, in support of a ground operation co-ordinated between the Iraqi Army and the Peshmergas (WKI). On the 8th the Suleimaniyeh Asayish announced the arrests of several members of a cell trying to enter Kurdistan to carry out attacks, as well as in Kirkuk and Diyala. On the 13th 21 jihadist prisoners escaped from a prison located in Suleimaniyeh, but managed by the federal government. They were recaptured. The Iraqi Minister of Justice denied the event, talking about “fabricated news”.
In the evening of the 22nd at 9 pm, armed men attacked a checkpoint point at Khanaqin, killing one policeman, and a bomb attack aimed at the Asayish, without making any victims, causing the deployment of Peshmergas. On the 24th a village near Tuz Khurmatu was attacked by jihadists, posing at first as Shiite militia. After having assembled the inhabitants, they took away 3 young people from whom one managed to escape (Rûdaw). Following these attacks on the Provinces of Diyala, Kirkouk and Mossul (Ninawa) a Kurd-Iraqi raid was launched South of Tuz on the 25th with air support from the Coalition. On the same day, the jihadists attacked several villages near Rashad (Kirkuk, not far from Hawija) kidnapping at least 19 people, including a mukhtar. Some others attacked several villages South of Daquq and took away 3 Kurds (Kurdistan 24). According to the NRT channel, 6 other people were kidnapped in villages South of Kirkuk, one of whom managed to escape. Also on the 25th an attack with a booby-trapped vehicle took place at Tal Afar, causing 3 deaths and 13 wounded in a market.
In the disputed territories, the Kurds still struggle to keep hold of their property in the face of newly arrived Arabs hoping to take back the lands once given to them by Saddam Husein, as in Talaban, the home village of the founder of the PUK, Jalal Talabani. On the 4th several hundreds of farmers, both Kurdish and Turcoman, gathered in front of the office of the interim Governor of Kirkuk, Rakkan al-Jaburi, to protest against his renewing the policy of Arabisation (Rûdaw). Contrary to article 140 of the 2005 Constitution, which forbids the settling in Kirkuk of Iraqis from other provinces, Jaburi has attributed identity cards, food rationing cards or residency permits to people coming from Diyala, Mossul or Salahaddin.
On 27th December, instituted “Flag Day” for the Kurds of Iraq by a vote pf the Erbil Parliament in June 2014, the Iraqi anti-terrorist units of Kirkuk intervened to remove the Kurdish flag hoisted by the Communist Party activists over their building, in defiance of the ban.
Latest case of sacking a Kurd from Kirkuk, Nasih Shwani. This Director since 3 years of the Board of Youth and Sport of the province has been replaced on the 24th by an Arab of 60 years old, according to him without any sport experience. He announced he would challenge this decision.
However, the political situation of Kirkuk could evolve. On the 10th, Kirkuk Members of Baghdad Parliament, Kurdish, Turcoman and Arab as well, announced an agreement on the manner in which the elections to the Provincial Council, planned for the 22nd December, would be conducted. Although Iraq has not organised any census since 1987, this vote would enable to better know the respective weight of the different communities and could help resolve the differences between Baghdad and Erbil on the management of the Province. The last elections to the Provincial Council go back to 2005 (al-Monitor).
On the 19th the Federal Court, upon request by the Iraqi President Barham Salih, annuled the 14 decrees attributing land to Arabs issued since October 2017 by al-Jaburi, ruling that disputes should be resolved by reference to Article 140 of the Constitution. On the same day a member of the Provincial Council informed Rûdaw that the Integrity Committee issued an arrest warrant against Jaburi because of 8 cases of bribery concerning more than 100 million dollars. The governor fled to Baghdad to lodge an appeal there. In Kirkuk the Kurdish parties, save the KDP, meeting on the 24th, requested at a press conference that the KDP return in order to enable the re-activation of the Provincial Council and the election of a new Governor. The KDP, declaring it had not even been invited to the meeting, maintained its position: refusal to participate in any meeting in a city it considers being “occupied”.
Finally on the 26th the President of the Provincial Council, Rebwar Talabani (Islamic Union, Yekgirtû) was sentenced in absentiaa to 6 months jail by a Kirkuk Court for 63,000 € “illegal expenses”. His party, as well as the President of the KDP Masud Barzani supported him, denouncing the sentence as “completely political”. The next day Talabani announced his intention of appealing and asked the Federal Court to enquire into the judges involved, whom he accuses of making their decision under political pressure. This is the 3rd judicial case against Talabani since he left Kurkuk for Erbil after the 16th October 2017. The previous accusations concerned his support for hoisting the Kurdish flag besides the Iraqi before public buildings in the Province, an accusation of “abandoning his post” for having left the province, at present suspended pendin the ruling on his appeal. On the 31st, part of the Provincial Council met to dismiss Talabani and replace him by his Vice President. Talaban declared the meeting “illegal”, only he, as President in office, being invested with the authority to call such a meeting. A fresh meeting should take place on 8th January (Rûdaw).
In the towm of Sindjar, Shiite militiamen attacked on the night of 24th a base of Yezidi Peshmergas belonging to Haider Shesho’s “Ezdikhan Force”. 30 peshmergas were taken, and released the next day. According to the attackers, the “Ezdikhan” did not have any official authorisation of the Iraqi security… On the 25th the mayor of Sinjar, Mahma Khalil, announced his decision to attach the town to the Kurdistan Region, invoking Article 140. However on the 27th, the interim mayor of Sinjar, nominated by Baghdad after the 16 October 2017, Fuad Hamid Omar, plus commanders of Shiite and Yezidi militia close to PKK and representatives of Sunni and Shiite Arab inhabitants of the Sinjar district held a meeting to set up a an Administrative Committee for the district. Shesho described such a Committee as “illegal”, declaring he only recognised the authority of the Nineveh Provincial Council. Other Yezidi leaders called on Baghdad and Erbil to create, as it had been done for Halabja, a new Province in the Niniveh plain, to whixh Sinjat would be attached (Rûdaw).
In one year, the Iranian rial collapsed from 40,000 to 120,000 to 1 US $ on the open market, which has tripled the price of imported goods, while wages have hardly increased during the same period. Even imported goods at subsidized prices will be found at retail at much higher prices... The Research Center of the Iranian Parliament has calculated that the number of people living below the poverty line, set at 28 million rials for a family of 4 (about 200 € in the black market or 420 € at the official rate), had increased 11% in the Tehran region between spring and summer, and 22% since the spring of 2017. And, again according to the Research Center, the situation is even worse in the countryside, where more people have fallen below the poverty line. The many demonstrations and strikes of 2018 have also hit the economy, and while the economic difficulties seem to be getting worse, the disorders may do the same (Radio Farda).
Iran's Kurdistan border provinces remain among the most economically devastated regions of the country. In Bijar, north-east of Sanandaj, municipal street cleaners went on strike at the beginning of the month: they have not received their salaries since months. The strike caused an accumulation of garbage in several neighborhoods. Moreover, the murders of Kurdish transborder porters, the kolbars, have ceaselessly increased in numbers, as the economic crisis forces more and more people to turn to this work, their only solution to survive. According to the Human Rights association Hengaw, November had already been one of the most terrible, with 8 killed and 17 wounded by the forces of repression, border guards or Revolutionary Guards (pasdaran). In the latest incident this month, one kolbar had been killed and another wounded on the 28th in the mountains near Piranshahr, while 2 others were reported missing. According to the law, border guards can only use their weapons if they think the intruder is armed and dangerous, and they must follow a specific procedure: give an oral summons first, then shoot in the air, and finally only, aim at the lower part of the suspect's body... These obligations remain theoretical; the reality is murder without warning.
On 4 December, border guards opened fire again in two separate events, injuring again 2 kolbars. Another one was also wounded near Sardasht, according to the Kurdistan Human Rights Association (KMMK), and on the 5th, another was shot dead near Urumiyah (WKI). On the 14th, a Baneh kolbar died of his wounds, and another was shot dead in the forests near this town. According to the KMMK, the same day, another died in an avalanche. On the 16th, Hengaw reported that another one was seriously injured near Piranshahr and two others arrested. These murders never seem to pause. On 25 December, KMMK reported that for the year 2018, 70 porters had been killed and 101 wounded, while reporting 4 more murders in the previous week in ambushes near Piranshahr and Sardasht.
The regime is extremely sensitive to the slightest criticism about these murders, not hesitating to arrest those who dare to question its policy in relation to the kolbars. Thus, according to KMMK, a Kurdish mullah from Baneh district named Said Baqî was arrested on 2 November by Etelaat (the regime’s Intelligence agency) for denouncing the shooting of border guards the previous Friday in his preaching at the mosque of his village of Tarkhan-Awa. In the city of Marivan, the regime's security forces prevented the students at the University of Peyamê Nûr from holding a seminar on kolbars. Tuesday, following calls from Kurdish activists, most traders in the city of Baneh waged a general strike against the kolbars killings (WKI).
In addition, the film director Rahim Zabihi, who was preparing a movie about the life of the kolbars, found a death more than suspicious on the 7th near Baneh in his car with his brother, the theatre actor Kaywan Zabihi. He had only been released two days earlier. The two men were found burned in their car, where they were allegedly tied up. According to a source wishing to remain anonymous for security reasons, Zabihi had sent his film to the local office of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which reacted extremely negatively and had him summoned many times by the police and the Etelaat. The funerals of the two brothers were followed on the 9th in Baneh by hundreds of people from all over Kurdistan of Iran, including artists and activists. Police chief of Kurdistan province said that the assassin, who confessed and attributed his act to a financial dispute, was arrested, but according to the Hengaw association, other sources accuse the authorities on the base of the case of the film in preparation (Kurdistan 24)...
Other arrests or convictions were reported during this month, including workers’ rights activists. On the 9th, Kurdish activist Omed Assadi, arrested in August 2018 by Etelaat, was sentenced to one year in prison by an Islamic court in Sanandaj. He will also have to pay a fine of $ 2,400 for trying to defend workers’ rights. In Ilam, 15 workers at a refinery were sentenced to 76 lashes for “threatening national security”: they went on strike last May. On the 18th, security forces arrested activist Behnam Ibrahim Zada in a raid on his home during which they also confiscated his smartphone and laptop. According to an anonymous source, he was sentenced in absentia to 18 months in prison by a court in Kermanshah. Zada has already spent five years in jail for his activities in defense of the rights of workers. At the same time, 4 Kurds from Marivan and 2 from Urumieh were also arrested and held incommunicado by Etelaat. On the 20th, in Kamyaran, 2 other activists, Mihredar Sabury and Omed Ahmadi, were sentenced to 1 year in prison for participating on 1st of May (WKI).
At Tallandier, by Boris James and Jordi Tejel Gorgas, has just been published in the series “Hundred questions” a book dealing with Kurds: Les Kurdes, un peuple sans État (The Kurds, a people without a state). In nearly 400 pages, it tackles both the history of the Kurdish people and the geopolitics of the region, through simple questions such as “Who are the pechmergas?”, Or “What role does the Kurdish diaspora play?”.
One of the last releases in this collection was also of interest, though more indirect, for readers interested in the Kurds, since it was, signed by Dorothée Schmidt, entitled La Turquie en 100 questions (Turkey in 100 questions), released in February 2017. Among other things, it contains the questions: “What do Kurds want from Turkey?”, or also: “Does Turkey play a double game with Daesh?”...