This month began with the repression of the May 1st demonstrations: 119 people who tried to march in Taksim (Istanbul) were detained. Then on the 3rd, it was the 26th “World Press Freedom Day”. When the Turkish Constitutional Court announced, after 2 years, that it would examine on that date the appeals submitted by 9 journalists in the name of non-compliance with fundamental freedoms, this choice raised some hope. He was quickly disappointed, as all appeals were dismissed. Arab Weekly recalled the 5 how 92% of Turkish media are now directly controlled by the President Erdoğan, while a new Communications Directorate, located directly in his palace, intervenes in almost all pro-government media... Citizens seeking objective information look at sites created by Turkish journalists in exile like Ahval, or foreign channels in Turkish like the BBC or Deutsche Welle... In its 2019 report published precisely on 3 September (https://tgs.org.tr/basin-ozgurlugu-raporu-nisan-2018-nisan-2019/), the Turkish Union of Journalists notes the following facts: from April 2018 to April 2019, 74 journalists received a total of 256 years’ imprisonment, including 3 years for life; the total fines or compensation imposed reached 170 million lire ($28.4 million); 4 out of 5 journalists tried were convicted; during the last 3 years, 1.954 press cards were cancelled: one in four journalists is now unemployed. On the same day, the “Mesopotamia Platform of Women Journalists” (MKGP, Mezopotamya kadın gazetciler platformu) presented its own report covering the last 4 months in Diyarbakir (Bianet). Published in Turkish and Kurdish, it mentions 12 journalists imprisoned on hunger strike, 14 women journalists imprisoned, 30 on trial, 2 acquitted, 2 beaten and... 2 murdered. On this World Day, Amnesty International’s Turkish branch asked journalists to describe their situation. The contributions, some sent from prison, were published (in Turkish) on the Internet (https://amnesty.org.tr/icerik/tutuklu-gazeteciler-yazdi).
In addition, political events were dominated by the results of the March 31 municipal elections, in which voters in the major Western cities sanctioned power for the economic crisis, while in the East, Kurdish voters rejected the “administrators” (kayyum) appointed by Ankara to elect candidates from the HDP (Democratic Peoples’ Party, progressive and “pro-Kurdish”). A decidedly bad loser, Mr. Erdoğan led the forcing throughout April to obtain from the YSK (High Electoral Commission) the cancellation of the Istanbul result. He finally obtained it on May 6 with an “extraordinary objection” from the AKP based on the fact that some assessors of the counting of the votes were not civil servants... The next day, the Ministry of the Interior appointed the interim mayor, while the CHP candidate, Ekrem Imamoğlu, announced that he would not give in and gave his voters an appointment on June 23, the date of the new vote. After Imamoğlu declared in a meeting “Everything will be fine” (Hersey güzel olacak), the government banned on the 13th a banner bearing these words during the parade commemorating the Manisa mining disaster which killed 301 people in 2014... Several opposition parties announced their support to İmamoğlu; the Communist Party withdrew its candidate. The HDP announced that again it would not present a candidate. On 28 June, HDP Co-Chair Pervin Buldan said: “The June 23rd elections are also those of Şırnak, Muş, Bitlis and Bağlar. It was the elections of our six municipalities that were seized”. The CHP, for its part, tried to attract Kurdish voters by mentioning the “fundamental right” to education in its mother tongue....
The prospect is not in favour of the AKP, the economic situation being particularly bad in this city which generates 31% of Turkish GDP. As of May 31, the consumer confidence index was down 13% from the previous month, and statistics show that when this index falls, so too does the pro-AKP vote... It seems that in response, the authorities are trying to manipulate the voters list, while it should remain the same as on March 31: Cumhuriyet reports that some voters have noticed that they have been removed and replaced (at the same address!) by complete strangers (Al-Monitor)...
The so-called independent YSK, who only cancelled the result of the CHP, while conditions were the same in the other districts, publicly revealed himself as ordered by the Turkish President. Even former AKP leaders Abdullah Gül and Ahmet Davutoğlu reacted negatively (Bianet). The HDP candidate for Ankara, Filiz Keresecioğlu, said: “Now Turkey sees that what has been done in the Kurdish provinces can also be done in Istanbul and the West”: the YSK has also declared several new HDP mayors ineligible, on the pretext that they were dismissed in 2016 by emergency decrees from Mr Erdoğan. However, he had validated in writing the submission of their candidacy... Thus at Bağlar (Diyarbakir), Zeyyat Ceylan, winner with 70.34% of the votes, had to leave the mayor’s office to the AKP candidate (25.46%), as well as to the elected HDP of Tusba in Van (52.93%), the election of Caldiran, also in Van (53%), or Tekman (Erzurum)... The YSK also invalidated the election of 10 moukhtars (village or district chiefs) from Lice district (Diyarbakir), replaced by appointed administrators (Ahval)...
The “guerrilla” of the power against the HDP municipalities was not limited to the invalidation of elected officials. Already last month, AKP administrators had handed over municipal buildings to the police or the provincial administration before leaving their post. On 8 May, the Bianet website announced that in the districts of Cizre, İdil and Sılopi (Şırnak), taken over by the HDP, the police had set up checkpoints with X-ray equipment or even guard posts in front of the town halls, as well as in Kiziltepe (Mardin), in front of the metropolitan town hall of Mardin, and according to RojInfo in 26 municipalities. Reason given by the authorities for these illegal acts of intimidation, because without a written order: to prevent people deprived of public office by decree-law “to interfere in the administration of municipalities” (RojInfo)... The municipality of Tunceli, conquered on 31 March by the country’s only communist mayor, Fatih Mehmet Maçoğlu, has also attracted the wrath of ultranationalists: at its first session on 23rd, its municipal council decided to change the name on the town hall by re-establishing its Kurdish name of “Dersim», authoritatively changed in 1935, and to offer its citizens services in Zazakî and Kurmancî (Bianet). MHP leader Devlet Bahceli stigmatized a “communist and separatist plot”, and the Interior Ministry sent an inspector to the area (Ahval).
In addition, during the week of the 13th, the Turkish Presidency lodged no fewer than 33 complaints against 21 Kurdish MPs (and 1 from the CHP opposition) to deprive them of their immunity and allow them to be convicted or dismissed. According to Turkish state media, among the targeted MPs are the two HDP co-chairs Pervin Buldan and Sezai Temelli, Leyla Güven (Diyarbakir), initiator of hunger strikes, and Ahmet Şık (Istanbul), a former journalist known for his investigations into the Gülen network (such as his book İmamın Ordusu., “The Imam’s Army”) and the administration Erdoğan (Kurdistan 24).
Another significant event this month was the success of the hunger strike movement calling for an end to the isolation of the imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan. The electoral tremor of 31 March and the concern of the authorities in front of thousands of prisoners fasting (7,000 to 6 May according to Humanity), 8 of whom had already committed suicide, probably both influenced the decision to lift the isolation, taken on 16. On the 2nd, the day when the police violently dispersed in Diyarbakir a gathering of mothers and wives of prisoners on hunger strike (AFP), arresting in several cities about forty relatives, Öçalan’s lawyers were able to meet him (after 8 years and 810 rejected requests!). Fearing a manoeuvre to stop the movement, the prisoners announced that they would continue it; the fasting people of Strasbourg declared in particular: “We will not stop until the isolation is over. The visit took place, but the important thing is the next step” (RojInfo). The HDP called on the international community to break its silence, as 15 prisoners had begun a “fast to death”. On the 14th, there were 30 of them.
On the 16th, Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül announced the lifting of isolation. Öçalan’s lawyers had relayed a letter on the 6th at a press conference in which their client called on fasters not to endanger their lives, stating also that “problems in Syria must be solved far from the culture of violence and with the aim of establishing local democracy while respecting Syria’s territorial integrity”. Extended hand? Öçalan added: “Turkey’s sensitivities must be taken into account”... On the 20th, the police violently repressed again outside the Gebze women’s prison a rally organised by mothers of political prisoners; several demonstrators were injured, the 2 local HDP representatives arrested, and the HDP deputy Ayşe Sürücü was beaten (RojInfo). On 22nd, two of Öçalan’s lawyers, after several rejected applications, were able to visit him again. On the 26th, after they had relayed a new message from Öçalan calling for the end of the movement, whose “objective[...] has been achieved”, the representative of fasting prisoners, Deniz Kaya, announced the end of the movement, quickly followed by the initiator of the movement, Leyla Güven, who welcomed “a victory of Turkish democracy”, while regretting the death of the 8 suicide prisoners.
This victory should not make us forget how worrying the prison situation in Turkey remains. According to an April 2019 report by the Human Rights Association (İHD), torture or ill-treatment in prison has increased sharply in recent years: 1,149 complainants have reported having suffered torture or ill-treatment, and at least 23 prisoners have experienced suspicious deaths. On 7 July, Van HDP MP Tayip Menzel tabled a written question in parliament on the systematic use of torture in prison No. 2 at Elaziğ, pointing out that despite several complaints from prisoners, no investigation had been opened. On 23 August, after the Turkey’s Center for Prison Studies (TCPS, Turkish acronym CISST) announced the publication on the Internet in English and Turkish of a report entitled Freedom of Speech in Prison (Hapishaneler’de ifade özgürlügü), the organization’s website appears to have been immediately closed (links indicated: http://www.tcps.org.tr/sites/default/files/kitaplar/freedom_of_speech_in_prison_report.pdf and http://www.tcps.org.tr/sites/default/files/kitaplar/hapishanelerde_ifade_ozgurlugu_internet.pdf)
At the same time, the well-established repressive mechanism of arrests, charges and convictions continues to function. After academics signed the petition against violence in the Kurdish provinces “We will not be party to this crime”, the (dismissed) members of the Governing Council of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) who had criticised the Afrîn operation were sentenced on the 3rd to prison terms (Bianet).
On the 7th, the sentence imposed on journalist Pelin Ünker of Cumhuriyet was overturned on appeal. She had been sentenced to more than a year in prison for defamation after a report on the Paradise Papers involving Binali Yıldırım and his sons, who had admitted the facts! On 8 August, journalist Cansu Pişkin, of the daily newspaper Evrensel, was sentenced to 10 months’ suspended sentence for publishing the name of the prosecutor of the university students’ case Boğaziçi, who were tried for protesting against the Turkish attack on Afrîn. His lawyers said that the publication of the magistrate’s name in pro-government media such as Sabah had not triggered any prosecutions...
On the 10th, the Constitutional Court ordered the release of the teacher Ayşe Çelik for “violation of her freedom of expression”. Çelik had been convicted of “terrorist propaganda” after calling a live television programme to report child deaths caused by military operations in the country’s Kurdish provinces. One of its lawyers, Mahsuni Kahraman, said he hoped that this verdict would set a precedent in the cases of academics and doctors convicted of their statements (Bianet). On the 14th, a delegation of doctors went to the Ministry of Justice to present a petition calling for the release of the TTB leaders.
The prosecution of the approximately 2,000 signatories of the petition “We will not be party to this crime” has increased, also targeting people residing abroad, such as mathematician Tuna Altinel, a professor in France at the University of Lyon 2, arrested on 11 November during a visit to Balıkesir for “terrorist propaganda”. His arrest triggered a major solidarity movement in France. On the 21st, Ayşe Gül Altınay, a signatory to the same petition, was sentenced for “terrorist propaganda” to 2 years and one month’s imprisonment (a sentence of more than 2 years prohibits conditional sentences). Teacher at Sabanci University, anthropologist, Altınay had co-signed in 2011 with Fethiye Cetin the Book of Little Children (Torunlar), which gathers testimonies of descendants of Armenians victims of the 1915 genocide. Bianet has published her moving statement of defence online (https://bianet.org/english/freedom-of-expression/208723-statement-of-academic-ayse-gul-altinay). On the same day, 7 journalists of the “pro-Kurdish” Özgur Gündem newspaper, closed by decree in 2016, including its editors Eren Keskin and Huseyin Aykol, were sentenced on the same charges to prison terms ranging from 15 to 45 months (AFP).
On the 15th, the judgment concerning the revelation of the clandestine convoy of weapons to Syria by the Turkish intelligence services (MIT) was finally handed down. In this case, the Turkish President had personally lodged a complaint and requested, in particular, life imprisonment for Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief, Can Dündar. In February, the Constitutional Court ruled that the imprisonment of Dündar and the head of the newspaper in Ankara, Erdem Gül, was a violation of their rights, a decision that angered Erdoğan... The Istanbul court this time acquitted Gül and dropped the charges against CHP deputy and journalist Enis Berberoğlu. At the trial held last February, their cases were separated from Dündar’s, whose extradition is now awaited by the court to continue the trial....
From the 20th, another case of police abuse made headlines, that of the village of Halfeti (Şanlıurfa). That evening, HDP MP and human rights defender Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu posted a photo on Twitter showing a dozen people handcuffed behind their backs and lying on the ground. Then details gradually emerged. After an anti-PKK operation in the Dergili district on 18 December, during which a police officer was killed and two others wounded, the security forces retaliated against the village, placing 53 people in police custody for questioning and torturing some with electricity, including children, to extract confessions... The detained persons were illegally denied access to a lawyer. On the 20th, a military helicopter bombed the area almost all afternoon. The Şanlıurfa branch of the Human Rights Association İHD accused the police of torture and ill-treatment, which the city prosecutor denied. On 24 July, Amnesty International launched a campaign denouncing the risk of torture of detainees and calling on its members to write to the Turkish Minister of the Interior (https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/EUR4404402019FRENCH.pdf).
On the international scene, relations with the United States continue to expand. On the 4th, Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan threatened to exclude Turkey from the F-35 military aircraft production program if the country persists in its desire to acquire the Russian S-400 air defence system. Ankara, which has invested more than $1 billion in this program, is expected to receive about 100 devices. On the 24th, the American channel CNBC even announced that the United States had threatened Turkey with sanctions...
The Turkish army has further intensified its anti-PKK operations in Iraqi Kurdistan. The PKK claimed earlier this month the death of 6 Turkish soldiers the previous week, while the Turkish Ministry of Defence announced that it had “neutralized” 14 Kurdish fighters in an air strike on a cave north of Dohuk, which the PKK denied. On the 2nd, other strikes damaged without killing several villages in the Qandîl area. On the 3rd, the Turkish Ministry of Defence announced the death of 3 soldiers in Iraqi Kurdistan in mortar fire at their base in Sherwan Mazin, opposite the Turkish province of Hakkari. In retaliation, helicopters pounded several villages the next evening, terrifying the inhabitants (Rûdaw). On the 6th and 7th, planes also bombed the district of Amêdî (Dohouk), not far from Shiladze. On the morning of the 10th, one Turkish soldier was killed and another wounded by an improvised explosive device in Dilucu (Iğdır), near the Iranian border (Rûdaw). On 11 March, Riza Altun, a PKK leader who had been announced by the Turkish army (just before the elections...) to have been wounded in a strike on 21 March, denied the information. On the 14th, a sergeant was killed in Derecik (Hakkari), causing a retaliatory strike on the Iraqi side, and a Kurdish civilian who went out to collect mushrooms was killed.
On the 15th, a Turkish military drone crashed on the Iraqi side near Sarsing (Dohuk), shot down or because of technical problems (Kurdistan 24). On the 13th, the PKK claimed to have killed 3 soldiers and wounded “many others” at Şırnak (Roj News). The ANF agency also announced “many deaths” in Cukurca (Hakkari). The Turkish army has announced the elimination of 4 Kurdish fighters in Dersim and 4 others in Hakkari. On the 16th, 5 MIT agents were wounded in Sarsing (Amêdî), Kurdistan, Iraq, when their convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device (NRT). On the 19th, RojInfo reported that another similar explosion killed 9 Turkish soldiers and wounded 21 others, again in Amêdî. Other clashes involving helicopters lasted almost a week in Sidakan. The PKK reported having “attacked the Turkish invading army” early in the morning near Khwakurk (Rûdaw). On the 21st, further air strikes killed a civilian near Barzan.
On the 28th, the Anatolia Agency announced the launch the previous evening in Iraqi Kurdistan of a major anti-PKK offensive in Khwakurk (northern Erbil province). Under the personal supervision of Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, the operation, called “Claw”, started with heavy artillery shelling, also involving commandos and 10 fighter planes, as well as at least 30 Cobra helicopters. According to the mayor of Sidakan (Soran), the strikes were heard from the cities of Soran and Rawandouz, whose inhabitants were terrorized. The operation was widely covered by the media, with the Turkish President himself mentioning it in a tweet. The HPG (PKK military wing) denounced Turkish propaganda and claimed 5 dead and “many wounded” in the attack on a military convoy in Basan (Iğdır). On the morning of the 29th, Turkish fighters carried out, for the second time in the week, strikes near Shiladze (Dohuk), an event that has become more and more frequent in recent weeks. On the 31st, the HPG announced that on the 29th it had repelled the Turkish invading army, inflicting a “historic blow” and killing 9 soldiers, at the cost of 3 of its own fighters killed in air strikes (RojInfo).
These military operations seem to have a mainly domestic propaganda function. As the Ahval site noted in April, if they are so effective, how can it be explained that the Turkish army, the 2nd largest in NATO, has not yet been able to put an end to a guerrilla war that has been going on for decades, nor to take control of its opponent’s mountain sanctuary?
According to Al-Monitor, indirect negotiations have reportedly begun between the Turkish Secret Service (MIT) and the PYD, the Kurdish party in Syria dominating the autonomous administration of North Syria. On 6 April, the online newspaper reported reports from an anonymous source that MIT envoys had met Mazloum Kobanê, the Syrian democratic forces (SDF) commander-in-chief, twice in late April. The United States reportedly served as intermediaries to start these discussions, which Kobanê mentioned in early May, describing them as “indirect”, conducted “through intermediaries”. In any case, a “deal” is far from certain: Turkey is still seeking control of a “security zone” established in the Syrian North (so far without having obtained anything concrete from the United States on this subject, it seems), a control that has been absolutely refused by the autonomous administration, and Kobanê insisted on his side that any agreement first implies a Turkish withdrawal from Afrîn, a path that Turkey hardly seems to take...
On the contrary, the jihadist mercenaries of Turkey controlling the region and the city of Afrîn continue their abuses, which are clearly aimed at frightening the Kurdish populations in order to drive them away and carry out the ethnic cleansing desired by Mr. Erdoğan. On the afternoon of 29 May, they surrounded and attacked 2 villages in Mabata district, Kokan High and Low, threatening to kill the inhabitants if they did not leave their homes, firing on those who resisted or refused to leave, injuring 10 people, among them women and children, including 2 seriously. The next day, hundreds of Kurds from Syria took to the streets to protest against the Turks’ plans to build an insulating wall Afrîn from the rest of Syria. Sînem Mohammed, representative in the United States of the Syrian Democratic Council, expressed her concern that this operation would prepare for the annexation of Afrîn by Turkey (Kurdistan 24). On the 5th, another demonstration gathering several thousand participants took place in Kobanê to denounce both the silence of the international community regarding the Turkish exactions in Afrîn and the isolation imposed by Turkey on the imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan (RojInfo).
Further east, and particularly in the Deir Ezzor region, the autonomous administration of the Syrian Northern Federation has been confronted for three weeks with a series of demonstrations by Arab residents who complain about the lack of basic services and accuse the leaders, mainly Kurdish, of discrimination against them. These protests have gradually spread to oil-rich areas, where some residents have tried to stop convoys carrying oil to Damascus-held territories, complaining about the lack of local profits. In some villages, banners described the SDF and the Syrian President as “accomplices to the same crime”. Another criticism is the recent increase in insecurity.
But one of the most important points of friction remains conscription, particularly at Raqqa. The incorporation campaign, which targets all ethnic groups, Kurds and Arabs alike, follows a decision taken on the 14th by the Defense Committee for Recruitment in the Euphrates Region to call on all young people between the ages of 18 and 28 to complete an 18-month “self-defense period”. On the 18th, the SDF military police arrested about 20 young people from several villages who refused to be drafted and sent them to training camps, many of whom are deserting, according to an anonymous source from Raqqa. Some of these young people belong to poor families who need their labour force, others join the SDF for the salary of 200 dollars a month (Al-Monitor).
In an attempt to reduce tensions, and as some tribal Arab leaders from northern and eastern Syria began to discuss with Damascus, the autonomous administration began discussions with them (Reuters). Aware that, now that the ISIS threat is diminishing, the former allies are likely to move away, the Rojava authorities organised a “Kurdo-Arab” forum on 3 May in Ain al-Issa, near Raqqa, to which 5,000 participants, members and leaders of these same tribes were invited. The meeting brought together representatives of some 70 clans, and ended with a declaration defending the unity of Syria and the sovereignty of its people, and calling for an end to the Turkish occupation of the Jerablous, Azaz, al-Bab and Idlib regions and the liberation from the same occupation of the Afrîn region and the return of its original inhabitants. The autonomous administration has stated that it is ready to engage in dialogue with the regime, but has once again rejected the so-called “reconciliation” agreements promoted by the regime, accusing them of being nothing more than unconditional surrenders accompanied by the evacuation of combatants (AFP).
After the forum, the Russian Foreign Minister accused the US and the autonomous administration of seeking to establish a “quasi-state» in the eastern Euphrates, and Damascus described the forum as “treason”, while the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister said that the Kurds were only a “tool in Washington’s hands”. The Syrian Democratic Council reacted on the 5th by stating in a statement that Damascus had no right to accuse anyone of treason or to claim to defend the unity and sovereignty of the country after allowing Turkey to occupy Jerablous, Azaz, al-Bab, Afrîn, and parts of Idlib province... (Rûdaw)
On the 14th, the administration of the Syrian North accused the Damascus regime of inciting demonstrations, while the pro-regime media, on the other hand, affected defending the demonstrators. The regime’s animosity, which has engaged with the support of its Russian ally in an offensive to retake Idlib province, may well be linked to its oil supply difficulties, the worst since the beginning of the war. While 75% come from outside Iran, Iran has stopped its deliveries since the return of US sanctions, and local oil fields are under the control of the autonomous administration... (AP)
On the other front, on the Turkish side, the situation is becoming more and more tense. On the 4th, the Turkish Ministry of Defence announced that a lieutenant had been killed and another soldier wounded in a YPG attack near Tell Rifaat, a town east of Afrîn and south of Azaz trapped between Turks in the north and regime in the south (Reuters). Further south, in Idlib, Syrian army fire on a Turkish outpost wounded 2 soldiers, causing 3 helicopters and a plane (Bloomberg) to be sent. Later that same day, the Ministry announced that it had launched a retaliatory attack on several villages in the Tell Rifaat area and had “neutralized” 28 militants. The Syrian “National Army” (despite its name a pure Turkish creation), also announced an attack, but according to Reuters had to withdraw from the 3 villages it had taken due to heavy fire from the Syrian army.
On the 10th, further jihadist fire targeted the SDF in the same area, and on the 12th, a Kurdish farmer injured in his field by Turkish fire had to be hospitalized in Girê Spî (Tell Abyad). In Afrîn, the Turkish army and two jihadist factions bombed Shera district with heavy artillery (WKI). On 15 December, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH) announced that more than 600 Kurdish prisoners arrested in Afrîn after the Turkish invasion, and transferred since then to Azaz, had been displaced again over the past week. The OSDH reported that it had received reports that some of them had been sent to Turkish prisons, and also reported that a number of them had been tortured. According to the OSDH, 2,682 people have so far been arrested in Afrîn, including 1,087 still in prison, the others having been released, most often for ransoms ranging from a few hundred to 100,000 dollars (Ahval). On the 18th, Tell Rifaat was again targeted by Turkish fire, while rebel fighting between Turkey and YPG north of Aleppo was reported. Thousands of Kurds gathered outside a Russian centre in Aleppo to denounce Russian complicity in the Turkish bombing of Tell Rifaat. They have good reason to be suspicious: earlier this month, Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay announced a joint Turkish-Russian military deployment agreement at the border in the region. Even if Turkey regularly makes announcements that subsequently turn out to be devoid of any reality, it is a worrying reminder of Russia’s agreement in early 2018 for the Turkish invasion of Afrin...
On the American side, it seems that, in contradiction with President Trump’s initial announcement of withdrawal, Washington is preparing to leave a thousand men behind, partly because the Turkish President has refused to give assurances that he will not attack the SDF, partly because American experts estimate that there are still nearly 20,000 ISIS fighters in the world, including many members of sleeping cells in Syria. And they seem more and more active. On May 1st, one of the commanders of the Jaysh al-Thuwar, a faction allied to the SDF, escaped an attack in the streets of Manbij using an improvised explosive device that wounded two civilians, an attack confirmed by the OSDH and then claimed by ISIS (Hawar, Kurdistan 24). On the 8th, a bomb exploded in Raqqa without causing any casualties. On the 10th, two explosions, one using a motorcycle bomb, the other near a checkpoint, killed 5 civilians in Manbij (WKI). On the 11th, the OSDH reported the deaths of 3 SDF members in Girê Spî (Tell Abyad), while a car bomb killed 1 person and injured 6, including a child, in Manbij (Hawar). On the evening of the 15th, a suicide attack targeted a SDF demining convoy in southern Hassakeh province without casualties.
Worryingly, some attacks, particularly in Deir Ezzor province, have taken place in areas supposedly cleared of jihadists long ago, far behind SDF lines, which presupposes local complicity. A recent Pentagon report
(https://media.defense.gov/2019/May/07/2002128675/-1/-1/1/LIG%20OCO%20OIR%20Q2%20OIR%20Q2%20MARCH2019.PDF) highlights the persistence of the threat, particularly in areas where the population is predominantly Arab and where some tribal ties may still exist with ISIS...
After launching a major offensive on the 15th mobilizing 5,000 fighters in Deir Ezzor province, the SDF announced the seizure of weapons and ammunition, the dismantling of a sleeper cell in Tabqa, and the arrest of 42 jihadists in recently released areas. On the evening of the 18th, a bomb exploded in front of the Manbij Security Office, killing 10 people, including civilians and 3 children. Two other explosions near stores also caused material damage on the 21st (WKI).
At the end of the month, the SDF was also able to send back 2 young Yezidi girls freed from ISIS to join their community in Shingal (Sinjar). At the beginning of the month, a group of 27 yezidis, 14 women and 13 children, released during the battle for Baghouz, had already been driven back to Iraq. But the fate of hundreds of yezidis remains unknown (WKI).
On the 30th, Deutsche Welle, quoting Spiegel magazine, announced that the German government had held discussions with the United States on a possible air deployment to protect a security zone in northern Syria “from both Turkey and the Assad regime”... This would prevent any deployment of German troops on the ground. But German political parties disagree on this point: while the CDU has indicated its support, the SPD has expressed strong opposition to this idea (Ahval, Al-Masdar).
Although deep differences still remain between the Kurdistan Region and the federal government, relations are gradually fading. On 3 March, Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi, visiting Paris, welcomed this in his joint press conference with the French President, stating that problems concerning oil, Sinjar and border crossings could be resolved through dialogue. In particular, he insisted on the unification of customs procedures, which made it possible to eliminate internal control points between Kurdistan and the rest of the country (Kurdistan 24). Another example of the improvement is that on the 21st, Iraqi peshmergas and soldiers reopened by mutual agreement the last closed road between Kurdistan and the federal territory, the one from Zummar to Dohuk (the Sihela-Sindjar and Kirkuk-Erbil roads were already reopened). This is a far cry from the time when the Iraqis tried to militarily take control of the crossing point to the Rojava of Pêsh Khabour, before giving up in the face of peshmergas’ resistance...
But tensions over oil remain. The 2019 budget provides that in return for Baghdad paying the salaries of its civil servants, the Kurdistan Region must provide 250,000 barrels of crude oil per day to the state-owned company SOMO (State Oil Marketing Organization). But by 21 June, almost in the middle of the year, the KRG had still not made any deliveries, although reports put its production at 600 or 700,000 barrels/day and its exports at over 400,000 (Asharq Al-Awsat). For the first time since his appointment, the Iraqi Prime Minister has raised his voice, threatening to cut the region’s budget if it does not meet its obligations. MP Aram Balatayi (PDK), a member of the Parliamentary Oil and Gas Committee, replied indirectly the next day, assuring that as soon as the new Kurdish government was formed, a delegation would travel to Baghdad to discuss the issue. Balatayi added that the KRG, having previously signed contracts with companies exploiting its fields, must first sell its oil to pay them their dues, but that if Baghdad agreed to bear these costs, it could deliver the oil quickly (Kurdistan 24)...
Another point of strong local tensions is the governance of the territories disputed between KRG and the federal government. The leaders of the Kurdish factions in the Iraqi Parliament on 18 December called for the establishment of a parliamentary committee to monitor the implementation of article 140 of the 2005 constitution. This article, which was never applied, provided that the populations of the disputed territories were to vote by referendum in December 2007 on the future of these territories. The Iraqi Parliament voted on 29 November to create the Commission. It remains to be seen whether and how it works....
The torrential rains that caused flooding and population displacements throughout the Middle East had an unexpected consequence in the desert areas of southern Iraq: they brought to light many human remains, causing the discovery in Muthanna province, 300 km south of Baghdad, of three mass graves dating from the genocidal operations of the Anfal carried out by the Ba’ath regime in 1987-88. A GRK delegation led by the Minister of Martyrs and Anfal, Baravan Hamdî, visited the last discovered grave on the 19th, which contains about 300 bodies. A forensic team is expected to begin exhumations in mid-June (Rûdaw, ISHM).
Still in connection with this sad legacy, the Prime Minister of the KRG called on Baghdad on the 21st for the equalization of pensions between former Kurdish political prisoners and their counterparts in the federal government: they receive 1.2 million dinars (900 €) per month against only 500.000 dinars (375 €) for the Kurds... At the end of March 2018, the Iraqi parliament voted for equal treatment, Baghdad having to send the Kurdish pensions to the Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal independently of the KRG budget. Although Baghdad accepted the principle on 11 August and the Iraqi Political Prisoners Association has asked to register Kurdish prisoners, the equalization is still not applied (Rûdaw)...
Concerning a more recent genocide, that of the Yezidis by ISIS in 2014, Hediye Mourad Haider, Yezidie deputy (KDP) in the Erbil parliament, announced on 16 August that he had introduced a bill proposing to institute an official commemoration every 3 August. Haider added that it was the responsibility of the Iraqi State to compensate the victims and their relatives (Kurdistan 24).
Finally, after rumours about the KRG retaining some of the funds sent by Baghdad to pay its officials, Finance Minister Rebaz Hamlan rejected any misconduct on 27 July. He indicated that there had been delays in sending salaries in 2018, and that for both 2018 and 2019, the amounts received did not cover all of them: for 2019 the GRK had to supplement the amounts received, 2,266 billion dinars, with 1,831 billion from its own budget, to put an end to salary deductions. By 2018, it had already completed with 3.618 billion (Kurdistan 24).
Finally, tension remains high in the country: on 14 July, security forces opened fire on demonstrators in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, killing 2 people and injuring 12 (ISHM), and the following day, violent anti-corruption demonstrations in Najaf killed 4 people and injured 17 (Rûdaw). On 16 August, Washington ordered the evacuation of its “non-essential» diplomatic personnel stationed in Baghdad and Erbil, shortly after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned of a “very specific threat» due to “Iranian activity» in the country. The issuance of visas has been stopped....
In Kurdistan, on the 2nd, the Goran movement, and later in the day, UPK spokesman Latif Sheikh Omer said in essence that they were ready to sign a government agreement with the KDP. Omer indicated on the NRT that he would wait for the PDK to set a date for the signature. The KDP indicated that it hoped to form the new KRG by the end of May... On 5 May, the KDP and the UPK announced that they had reached an agreement on the distribution of ministerial portfolios (ISHM), and on 7 May, a delegation from the KDP went to Suleimaniyeh to meet Goran and formally sign the agreement with the UPK. The next day, in a session chaired by its President Vala Farîd, the Kurdistan Parliament reactivated the function of President and changed its method of appointment so that it would be chosen by deputies by a simple majority, and no longer by universal suffrage. Disagreements on this point had in the past caused such tensions that the parliament had ceased to function. The acceptance by the KDP of the new method of appointment has helped to reduce tension, particularly with Goran. The bill was passed by 82 votes out of 111 seats; the 12 “New Generation» deputies voted against (Al-Monitor), as well as those of the Islamic Union (Yekgirtû); the Islamic Group (Komal) opposed some aspects of the amendment. The new law also created the position of Second Vice-President. This reactivation was a necessary step in the formation of a new government, since it is the President who must appoint the Prime Minister responsible for forming it...
On the 12th, the Parliament announced that candidates for the Presidency should be submitted from the 12th to the 15th, and recalled the 3 conditions of eligibility: residing in the Kurdistan Region, being over 40 years old, and possessing their civil and political rights. The KDP candidate is none other than Nechirvan Barzani, who would be replaced as Prime Minister of the KRG by Masrour Barzani, the current head (“Chancellor”) of the Security Council (Kurdistan 24). According to the agreement between PDK, Goran and UPK, Moustafa Sayid Qadir (Goran), former Peshmergas minister, would become Vice-President.
On the 19th, the parliament announced 5 candidates, but, not surprisingly, on the 28th, Nechirvan Barzani was elected. However, only 81 deputies were present out of 111, with the UPK finally calling for a boycott of the session (AFP). PDK and UPK then blamed each other for the failure to comply with the agreement reached: the UPK accused the PDK of not having implemented the agreement concerning the choice of the Governor of Kirkuk, who was supposed to go to the UPK, the PDK replied that it had complied with the agreement, the choice of the Governor being settled by the two leaders Massoud Barzani (PDK) and Kosrat Rassoul (UPK). According to the KDP statement, after they had agreed on the name Faraydoun Abdul-Qadir, the UPK reportedly returned 3 other names the day before the parliamentary session, “which constituted a violation of the agreements”... Another unresolved issue is the choice of the common candidate for the post of Minister of Justice in Baghdad, vacant since Abdul Mahdi’s appointment last October (Kurdistan 24)...
On 30 June, Parliament announced that the swearing-in ceremony for the new President would be held on 10 June, not in Parliament in view of the large attendance expected, but at the Saad Abdullah Conference Centre, near Erbil Park. According to Kurdistan 24, it is on June 12 that Nechirvan Barzani will call Masrour Barzani to form the regional government within 30 days.
In the Kurdistan Region’s domestic politics, another case also occupied the press columns: the threat of blackmail within the “New Generation» movement, which eventually led to the arrest in mid-May of its founder and leader Shaswar Abdulwahid. After a raid by the Asayish (Security) of Suleimaniyeh, dependent on the UPK, on the office of the movement in that city, and the arrest of several of its members, Abdulwahid had denounced political motives. On 9 April, Rûdaw announced that 5 members of the movement had been arrested on 6 April, and that 5 others were now the subject of warrants for threats of blackmail and insults against other members of the movement: on 24 April, MP Shadi Nawzad filed a complaint after receiving a text message threatening to broadcast a video showing her naked, shot without her knowledge by cameras hidden in a housing used by the movement. She had received the support of many women MPs from all parties, in Erbil or Baghdad. After the launch of a criminal investigation, the Asayish of Suleimaniyeh broadcast on the 9th the filmed confessions of 5 people. On the 14th, a court in Suleimaniyeh issued a warrant against Shaswar Abdulwahid himself. Imprisoned on the 15th, he immediately went on hunger strike. On the evening of the 22nd, the movement, denouncing a political arrest, announced that after a week of fasting, his health was “unstable”. The governor of Sulaimaniyeh, Haval Aboubakir (Goran), replied that the arrest was indeed the result of a legal procedure (Rûdaw). Finally, Abdulwahid was released on bail on the 30th.
The outcome of the month shows a very worrying intensification of jihadist attacks in disputed territories where they are freely deployed between the lines of the Kurdish peshmergas and the Iraqi military. Already on April 29, ISIS’s leader, Abu-Bakr al-Bagdadi, had reappeared in a video where he promised his enemies a “long battle”. The next day, the jihadists reported killing a member of the Suleimaniyeh Asayish who had fallen into their hands 4 days earlier. His body was discovered on the 5th at the foot of Mount Qarachogh, not far from Makhmour, with a bullet in the head (Rûdaw). Meanwhile, on the 2nd, Iraqi Security announced that it had killed an important ISIS commander and his assistant in an early morning ambush in Nineveh province.
Jihadists also burned down many crops throughout the month to obtain payments or ambush their enemies. On May 27, the Iraqi Civil Defence Directorate made a frightening assessment: nearly 2,500 hectares (6,103 acres) of fields burned in 136 different attacks over 18 days in 11 provinces of the country. The most affected provinces are precisely those of the disputed territories: Salahaddin, Nineveh, Kirkuk and Diyala... (Kurdistan 24)
On the 4th, two successive improvised explosive devices exploded in the village of Moukhaysa (Diyala), killing 1 person and injuring 3 others. On the 7th, the jihadists killed 3 civilians in Mazarieh (Salahaddin), and in the evening 3 police officers at a checkpoint in Altun Kupri, between Erbil and Kirkuk. On the 9th, an attack was reported on the house of a village mukhtar in Nineveh province, killing him and 4 of his relatives (ISHM). On the 12th, farmers in Makhmur (Nineveh) asked to be protected from jihadists seeking to extort diya («blood money») from them by threatening to burn their fields (Iraqi News). That same evening, the jihadists murdered a father and his son, both members of the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party (Rojinfo, NRT). The next day, an improvised explosive device exploded in the same province, near Tell Afar, killing an Iraqi soldier and injuring 3 others (ISHM). On the 15th, jihadists set fire to other fields near Mount Qarachogh. On 15 and 16, they killed 9 Iraqi security personnel, including 4 officers, in blitz attacks near Hawija, in southwestern Kirkuk province. On the 18th, ISIS set again fire to crops in Diyala province. Several attacks in this area have resulted in a total of 4 civilian deaths in one week, including one teacher (Kurdistan 24). On the 19th, again in Diyala, an improvised explosive device targeting Shia militia vehicles killed or wounded 26 members of the militia. The next day, 1 civilian was killed and 3 others wounded in the same way near Tell Afar (Nineveh) (ISHM). On the 22nd, 1 policeman was killed and 5 others wounded in Salahaddin.
On the 23rd, a joint operation between the French military and peshmergas made it possible to eliminate at least 3 jihadists near Tuz Khurmatu, free about ten villages and dismantle several weapons depots (Rûdaw). But two days later, other fields were set on fire in Taza Khurmatu (Hawija) and Daquq (NRT). On the 26th, an unclaimed bomb attack at the Rabia market near the Syrian border killed 5 people and injured at least 8. On the evening of the 27th, a jihadist attack on the oil fields near Hamrin Mountains and the city of Tikrit was repelled, the second attack in this area in a week (Kurdistan 24).
But it was at the end of the month that the most serious attacks took place. On the evening of the 20th, the fields of several Kakai villages in the south of Kirkuk province were set on fire, and on the 30th, those of the village of Haftaghar, 35 km South of this city, were set on fire. As farmers tried to save their crops, jihadists opened fire, killing 1 person and injuring 9 (Kurdistan 24). And on the same night, a series of 5 explosions (6 according to other sources) struck the city of Kirkuk, killing at least 7 people and injuring dozens (RFI). On the 31st, the Iraqi Ministry of Health reported 2 deaths and 38 injured, including women and children.
On the same day, the Parliamentary Committee for the Monitoring of Disputed Territories condemned this situation as a “new Arabization campaign”: some Kurdish farmers who were victims of the fire in their fields testified that the perpetrators were Arab settlers from the Ba’ath era who had returned to evict them. Like the Peshmerga Ministry and the various Kurdish parties, the Commission has called for the return of the peshmergas and the joint management of the province’s security between them and the Iraqi military, as well as the management of the city’s security by the local police and security forces, in order to “put an end to militarisation”. It also called for the dismissal of Rakan al-Jaburi, the interim governor appointed by former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and “serious efforts” to implement Article 140 of the Constitution (Kurdistan 24). Kurdish parties still accuse Jaburi of reactivating the Arabisation policy of the previous regime (he issued 14 decrees seizing land belonging to Kurds and re-allocating it to Arabs, before the Iraqi Federal Court cancelled them last December) and of illegally committing funds received from Baghdad without consulting the Provincial Council. But they have still not been able to agree on a candidate who could be elected by the Provincial Council to replace him. The disagreement also affects the meeting place: several advisors, including KDP members, refuse to return to Kirkuk, which they consider to be under military occupation by Baghdad. On 30 April, a new session of the Council had to be postponed due to a lack of quorum (Kurdistan 24). The Arab faction of the Council, led by Jaburi himself, obviously refuses to participate in the meetings...
Many testimonies this month concern attempts to evict Kurdish farmers by former Arab settlers who have returned to the area. On the 14th in the village of Palkana (Sargaran), in the west of the province, some 200 Arab families with invalid Ba’athist property titles arrived in a convoy of 25 vehicles and forcibly evicted several Kurdish families. According to Kurdish residents, they have received support from the security forces. On the 16th, in Kirkuk, security forces bulldozed 4 houses belonging to Kurdish peshmerga families in the Arafa district. The reason given: the land would belong to the North Oil Company. But according to the inhabitants, Arab or Turkmen houses in the same case were not targeted... On the 17th, several Kurdish farmers in the village of Mama (Dibis) complained that their crops had been harvested at night by Arabs from Baaj, in neighbouring Nineveh province... Agricultural equipment was also stolen (Kurdistan 24). On the 18th, an official source told Shafaaq News that 600 Kurdish families had been expelled from 3 villages in Kirkuk (ISHM). On 22 September, four Kurdish citizens of Kirkuk were arrested after refusing to leave their homes claimed by the North Oil Company. According to local reports, Governor al-Jaburi regularly issues administrative orders for eviction in groups of 5 houses (Kurdistan 24). The Erbil Parliament’s Human Rights Committee has called for the suspension of the Governor’s administrative decisions as violations of the 2005 Iraqi Constitution, in particular Article 140 thereof.
On 22nd, following the acute conflict in Palkana, a meeting was held with local authorities, including the mayor of the village, officials of the Kirkuk Department of Agriculture, some of the Arab settlers, and Jaburi. A Commission of Inquiry has been set up, and pending its conclusions, Kurdish landowners have been “allowed to harvest” their fields! Arab settlers reported building houses in the region before 2003, with Jaburi supporting them by stating that “Arabs were the original inhabitants of Sargaran”... This type of conflict caused harvests to stop in 16 predominantly Kurdish areas of Kirkuk province (Rûdaw). On 27 July, a member of the Erbil Parliament’s Committee on Contested Territories, Naser Ahmed, reported to Kurdistan 24 that the deputies would form a new Committee to visit these territories and travel to Baghdad to push for the implementation of article 140. Another MP, Mahyadin Hassan, indicated that the Commission could also request the dismissal of the current President of the Iraqi Council on the disputed territories, Hadi al-Ameri, who is also the leader of the Iranian-backed Fatah Coalition (Kurdistan 24).
Concerned about the May 1st rallies, the regime tried to prevent them in Kurdish cities, including imprisoning activist Zanyar Dabagian in Sanandadj after a one-year prison sentence for “propaganda against the government” (WKI). In Tehran, a demonstration of several thousand people, called by the bus drivers’ union in particular, had begun to chant slogans in front of the parliament denouncing high living costs and inflation, but the police intervened very violently to disperse the group, not hesitating to hit demonstrators already on land, and stopping at least 35 participants. Two journalists covering the demonstration, Kayvan Samimi, editor-in-chief of Iran-e-Farda, and Marzieh Amiri of Shargh Daily, were also arrested. On 6 June, the CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) called for their release.
Also on May 1st, an incident involving members of Iraqi Shia militias (Hashd al-Shaabi), who officially came to Iran in mid-April to participate in post-flood assistance, was reported. The authorities have been accused on social networks of actually bringing these militiamen to the country’s border provinces, particularly Kurdistan, to help suppress demonstrations caused by the deteriorating economy, or even to assist the pasdaran against the Kurdish rebels. According to a local testimony transmitted to Kurdistan 24, through the human rights organization Hengaw, some of these militiamen fired on a vehicle in Oshnavieh, killing two cross-border Kurdish or Kolbar porters. Although unarmed, they continue to be regularly targeted by Iranian pasdaran or border guards. In the first week of the month alone, six of them were killed, including the two victims of Iraqi militiamen. On the 4th, a kolbar was killed and three others wounded in an ambush by the pasdaran near Nowsoud. Another attack took place near Salmas. On May 5, two kolbars drowned while trying to cross a lake near Urumieh. On the 7th, the body of another carrier who had disappeared three months earlier was found near Baneh, dead of cold (WKI). On the 9th, another carrier from Kermanshah fell to his death in a ravine while trying to escape the border guards. The next day, they seriously injured another kolbar, who then died in hospital in Piranshahr. On May 11, two more kolbars were killed by gunfire near Bokan and the next day another wounded near Sardasht. On the 14th, another, barely 17 years old, drowned in a river near Oshnavieh, and on the 19th, another was killed by shooting at his group near Baneh. On 28, KMMK and Hengaw announced that the Iranian army had killed 4 kolbars and wounded 2 others in Piranshahr. To date, the Kurdistan Human Rights Association (KMMK) has counted 39 dead and 80 injured carriers (RojInfo) since early 2019.
Arrests and convictions of Kurdish activists also continued. For example, Ataollah Ahsani of Divandarreh, sentenced to 7 years’ imprisonment for “insulting sacred symbols” after participating in demonstrations against the regime in 2018, Daniel Darab, sentenced to one year’s imprisonment in Kermanshah for “acts against national security”, or 2 Uroumieh Kurds arrested in October 2018, Bihzhad and Mikael Shahswar, sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment for “belonging to opposition parties”. On the 8th, officers of the Etelaat (Intelligence Service) arrested a Kurdish trade union activist, Ishaq Rûhî, in Sanandadj, without knowing the cause. At the same time, two environmental activists, Sîrwan Qurbanî and Hadî Kamangar, arrested in December 2018 at the same time as six others by Etelaat, were transferred to prison pending trial. The fate of their 6 companions remains unknown, which frequently happens in the event of incarceration by Etelaat... (WKI).
Despite repression, in several cities in Iran’s Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Marivan, Sanandaj, Saqqez, Urumieh, and Kamyaran, teachers dared to gather to protest against their working conditions and oppose the regime’s plans to privatize some schools. Among the many movements and strikes following the economic downturn, on the 12th, taxi drivers in Urumieh went on strike all day to protest against their low incomes and the sharp increase in the price of car parts following the devaluation of the rial. In Khorramabad, municipal employees gathered outside the town hall to protest against the non-payment of their salaries (WKI).
On 15 May, three members of the Iranian Writers’ Association, Baktash Abtin, Reza Khandan Mahabadi, and Keyvan Bajan, were sentenced to 6 years in prison for “propaganda against the State» and “collusion against State security”: they had dared to publish a story of their group, founded in 1968 to fight censorship, and to hold ceremonies commemorating their comrades Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh, murdered by the State in 1998 by gathering at their graves (CHRI).
Recent arrests in Kurdistan include a large number of women. On the 14th, Iran Rah-Paykar was arrested in Marivan, on her return from Iraqi Kurdistan, and transferred to the Etelaat detention centre in Sanandadj. On the 16th, the regime’s security forces raided the village of Kûlan (Marivan) and arrested at least 7 activists, including 3 Kurdish women, Daiman Fat’hi, Somayyeh Rûzbeh and Mojdeh Mardokhi. Again, it was to prevent a commemorative rally on a grave, that of Nermin Vatankhah, previously murdered in Marivan. On 18 May, two of the three women arrested, Daiman Fat’hi, Somayyeh Ruzbeh, were charged with “disturbing public order”. Several other women activists have been arrested throughout the country, including for encouraging women to give up their veils (NCR).
Meanwhile, three new environmental activists, Mahdi Qubadi, Rashad Montazari, and Jalal Rostami, were transferred to prison after months of detention in Etelaat cells (WKI, KMMK).
In addition, after two months of hunger strike, which began in protest at the unfair treatment of political prisoners in Iran, the health of activist Barzan Mohammadi continues to deteriorate. Mohammadi is serving a 6-year sentence imposed on him in 2017 for “gathering a group against national security” (WKI).
Nationally, political activist and former advisor to green movement leader Mehdi Karroubi, Hengameh Shahidi, was sentenced on the 13th by a Tehran Court of Appeal to 7 years and 6 months in prison for “propaganda against the state”, “insults to officials” and “spreading false news”, in fact for criticising former Justice Minister Sadegh Larijani (CHRI).
Finally, a new earthquake of 5.3 magnitude struck the border area between Iranian Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq on 11 November. In contrast to the 2017 earthquake that struck Kermanshah in 2017, which killed 630 people and injured 8,000 in Kurdish settlements in Iran, there were no casualties.
ix years after the triple murder of Kurdish activists in Paris on 6 January 2013, their families obtained the reopening of the investigation. An anti-terrorist judge was appointed on the 14th to resume investigations, and will work in particular on the involvement of the Turkish intelligence services (TIS). The three activists, Sakine Cansiz, 54, Fidan Dogan, 28, and Leyla Saylemez, 24, were killed by several bullets to the head. The suspect, Omer Güney, betrayed by surveillance cameras and ammunition traces on his belongings, died of brain cancer in December 2016, just before his trial before the Paris Special Court of Assize opened, resulting in the investigation being halted.
But families could not accept to leave it at that. They fought to have the investigations resumed - not without difficulties. At the beginning of 2017, a new complaint was filed on the basis of new information, documents indirectly incriminating the Turkish secret services. But the public prosecutor, once these documents have been translated into French, closes the complaint without further action. In January 2018, thousands of Kurds demonstrated in Paris to demand “truth” and “justice” and denounce the inaction and silence of the French authorities. In March 2018, the families filed a new complaint and filed a civil suit to obtain the appointment of an investigating judge. It is on this basis that the Paris Public Prosecutor’s Office finally opened a judicial investigation for “complicity in murders in connection with a terrorist enterprise” and “criminal terrorist criminal conspiracy”, according to a judicial source. One of the family lawyers, Antoine Comte, told AFP: “It is historic, the end of impunity for political killings in France sponsored from abroad. ...] The prosecutor admits that the case is not over with the death of the suspect, a judge will be able to examine all the elements, in the first place the involvement of a foreign country, already pointed out by the initial investigation” (AFP). Indeed, the first investigation had indeed noted the involvement of MIT members, through the suspect’s contacts, and his (thwarted) plan to escape from prison, which did indeed provide for the participation of a MIT member... The investigation had not, however, made it possible to determine whether these members of the Turkish secret services had acted on orders or on their own initiative. The survey that is starting will have to try to answer these questions, among many others....
On May 14, the same day that the investigation into the Paris murders was relaunched, at least 150 people gathered in Lyon to demand the release of the Turkish mathematician Tuna Altınel. Among the demonstrators, members of the Association Amitiés kurdes de Lyon (Lyons Kurdish Friendship Association), but also many students and students of the University of Lyon 1 and members of the “Sud Solidaires” trade union and the PCF. Established in France since 1996, Altınel, a respected human rights defender and internationally recognized mathematician, is a lecturer at this university (Le Figaro).
What is he accused of in Turkey? To have, like more than 2,000 academics, signed in 2016 a petition denouncing the plight of civilians in the Kurdish regions of Turkey in the face of violence by Turkish security forces. His trial was held in February and the verdict was expected in July. But last February, Altinay was wrong to act as an interpreter during the public meeting of a Kurdish association in Villeurbanne to the former HDP Faysal deputy Yıldız. This led to further legal problems for him, as the Turkish authorities used Article 7/2 of the “Anti-Terror Law” to have him arrested on 10 May at Balıkesir, where he had gone to inquire about the restrictions imposed on his passport. The French government confirmed on 13 July that he was in pre-trial detention, expressing its “concern”. He is now charged with “propaganda for a terrorist organization”. His colleagues and students in the mathematics department of Lyon 1 have set up a support committee and maintain contact with the French Ministries of Higher Education and Research and Foreign Affairs. The French National Council for Higher Education and Research (CNESER) unanimously decided to ask the Ministers of the European Union, Higher Education and Foreign Affairs in France to “take the necessary steps to ensure that Turkey respects the freedom of expression of academics”. In a speech delivered on 16 May, the French Minister of Higher Education, Frédérique Vidal, expressed her deep concern, stressing that Altınel should be able to return to France as soon as possible and resume her work. The European Mathematical Society also made a statement regarding this arrest, stressing that it was a violation of human rights and demanding his immediate release (Bianet). Several trials also began this month in Turkey against other academics who signed the same petition, including some who had denounced themselves to the judicial authorities in solidarity with their accused colleagues, such as Zeynep Tanbay or Halim Bulutoğlu, whose lawyer relied on the verdict of the Constitutional Court ordering the release of Ayşe Celik to demand their immediate acquittal...
On the 16th, L’Humanité made Tuna Altınel its “man of the day”, and on the 30th, two PS senators from the Rhône wrote to the French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe to ask him what steps France»[was planning] to take for the release of Mr Altinel» (LyonMag.com).
On May 22, 132 Yazidis left Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq, at midday for France, where they are to resettle as part of a cooperation program with the International Organization for Migration (ISHM) funded by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has already enabled 16 families to start a new life in the country. That same evening, 28 Yazidi women and their children landed in Toulouse-Blagnac. It was following a meeting between Nadia Murad, 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and French President Emmanuel Macron, that this operation was set up. The president had committed himself to her for an “exceptional reception operation” benefiting 100 Yazidi families (The Telegram). Some of the families will be welcomed in the Tarn department (county).
In a related information, on 29 July, a Yazidi association in Germany filed a criminal complaint against the German Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs for failing to make sufficient efforts to repatriate ISIS fighters to Germany for trial, pointing in particular to their recent “refusal to transfer a German citizen detained by the autonomous administration of northern and eastern Syria”. According to recent figures from the Ministry of the Interior, some 60 German jihadists are currently prisoners of the Syrian Democratic Forces (AFP).
In France too, the possible repatriation of jihadist families detained in Rojava (or its refusal by the French authorities) continues to be controversial. On 6 May, the grandparents of two children held in al-Hol camp in Rojava with their mother, brought an action before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) seeking a conviction against France for refusing to repatriate them. The lawyers argue that France’s decision “constitutes a violation of article 3, paragraph 2, of Protocol No. 4, according to which “no one may be deprived of the right to enter the territory of the State of which he is a national”. (AFP). According to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, approximately 450 French nationals are currently detained in Syria (Le Figaro). On 28th, the death sentence in Iraq of 6 French jihadists provoked a new controversy. The Quai d’Orsay immediately reacted by reaffirming its opposition in principle to the death penalty. On 31 December, the human rights organisation Human Rights Watch called on Paris not to “outsource the management” of alleged French jihadists to “abusive judicial systems”. Some French defendants, showing marks on their bodies, told the audience that their interrogators had beaten them to extract confessions or that they had to sign confessions in Arabic, a language they do not know. According to HRW, some Iraqi interrogators use torture that leaves no visible traces, such as drowning simulations.
Photographer Susan Meiselas, well known to the Kurds for her photographic history of Kurdistan, featured in her book Kurdistan in the Shadow of History
(https://boutique.institutkurde.org/fr/english/28-kurdistan-in-the-shadow-of-history.html) and on her website “akaKurdistan” (https://www.akakurdistan.com/), won the 2019 award from the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation. Meiselas was awarded for its first European retrospective, Mediations, presented in 2018 at the Musée du Jeu de Paume in Paris. The announcement of the award was made at a special ceremony at the Photographers’ Gallery in London on May 16 by Turkish-born British writer and activist Elif Shafak.
For this exhibition, Meiselas had chosen works from her engagement with the Kurds. She said in an interview with the British Journal of Photography that she hoped visitors could gain “a deeper appreciation of the experience of Kurds and others who have had to flee their country of origin and face unpredictable conditions without being able to return safely”. Meiselas arrived in Iraq’s Kurdistan in 1991 with the forensic team exhuming the bodies of victims of the Anfal genocidal operations launched by the Ba’athist regime. In addition to the book and website already mentioned, this experience also led her to organize a series of workshops to collect the memories of Kurds around the world.
The works of the artists selected for the prize will remain on display in London until 9 June, before leaving for Frankfurt from 14 June to 23 August. Created by the Photographers’ Gallery in London in 1996, the £30,000 prize was then awarded to the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation, a non-profit organisation specifically dedicated to the collection, exhibition and promotion of contemporary photography (L’Œil de la Photographie, British Journal of Photography).
As a testimony to the excellent integration of the Kurdish community in Europe and its democratic institutions, two Kurdish women were elected to the European Parliament in two different countries during the elections held this month.
Evin Incir, 34, a 34-year-old resident of the city of Upsalla, north of Stockholm, was elected in Sweden on the Social Democratic Party list, where she ranked fifth. In an interview given before the election to the Kurdish television channel of Iraq Kurdistan 24, she stated whether she was elected to advance the Kurdish cause and to address in parliament “the oppression and injustice from which the Kurds have suffered and continue to suffer”.
Özlem Alev Demirel, 35, who entered politics at the age of 19, was elected to the list of the German Left Party, of which she was one of the two main candidates. Kurdish Alevi from the city of Malatya, Demirel, who studied at the University of Bonn, expressed her willingness to “work hard” to become “the voice of the voiceless”.
While 15 May is the date of the Kurdish Language Festival (Cejna zimanê Kurdî), in tribute to the publication on 15 May 1932 in Damascus of the Kurdish magazine Hawar, published by a team led by Celadet Elî Bedirxan, we are pleased to announce on 28 May the publication of the first issue of the student magazine of the Kurdish section of INALCO (French Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales), Kurd’Înalco.
INALCO, where the Kurdish language has been taught since 1948, has a special link with the Kurds and Kurdistan, since one of the first presidents, the orientalist Pierre Amédée Jaubert, who was Bonaparte’s interpreter in Egypt, is known to have visited Kurdistan himself in 1805.... Moreover, Kurdish publications outside Kurdistan, such as the Kurdistan newspaper, published in Cairo in 1898 before moving to the United Kingdom, or the magazine of Kurdish students in Europe, Dengê Kurdistan, have historically played an important role in the defence of the Kurdish language and culture.
This first issue of Kurd’Înalco, with 83 pages, contains articles in Kurmancî and Soranî that cover linguistics, literature, history, social sciences and mathematics.
For further information or to receive the magazine: email@example.com.