The Iraqi Federal Supreme Court took an extremely important decision on 30 July, ruling on a request submitted to it by Iraqi Parliament on Article 140 of the 2005 Constitution. This article concerns all the territories disputed between the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdistan Region, which extend from the provinces of Diyalah and Kirkuk in the East to the province of Ninewa (Nineveh) on the Syrian border. It stipulates that the Iraqi executive authority elected in accordance with the 2005 Constitution inherits responsibility for implementing the elements of paragraph 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law (established by the US Occupation Authorities), which provides that once the situation in these territories has been normalized (i.e. the return of original residents and the departure of those who had been forcibly settled) and a census has been held (to establish the electorate), a referendum must be held there “no later than 31 December 2007” to allow the residents of these territories to express their will, become part of the Kurdistan Region or remain under federal administration.
Since standardization, the census and referendum had in fact never even begun to be executed, the Supreme Court was asked whether the article now remained valid. The Arab and Turkmen parties in Kirkuk maintain that, as the 2007 date has passed, it has lost all validity. The Kurds are of course of the opposite opinion. The Court has just ruled in their favour: the fact that the Iraqi Administrative Authority has not implemented the provisions of Article 140 before the scheduled date does not release it from its obligation. Supreme Court spokesman Ayas al-Samuk said that the date specified in the implementation of article 140 of the Constitution had been set “in a manner of regulation” and that exceeding it did not affect either the essence or the purpose of the article. He urged the parties concerned to implement it: “The Supreme Federal Court has therefore decided that Article 140 remains in force until now and until its requirements are implemented”, an implementation that would “achieve the legislative objective sought, in accordance with the measures set out in Article 58 [...]” of the Transitional Law (Kurdistan-24). It should be noted that last January, the Iraqi Bureau of Statistics announced that a national census should be launched by the end of 2020...
As could be expected, the Arab and Turkmen parties in Kirkuk did not wait much before rejecting the Court’s decision, without proposing any alternative solution. Already on the 12th, after KDP and PUK had announced the day before their agreement on Tayib Jabar Amîn as a joint candidate for the post of governor of Kirkuk, Arab and Turkmen residents gathered in town with Iraqi flags to chant slogans supporting the current interim governor Rakan Said al-Jabouri, a Sunni Arab accused by the Kurds of having restarted Saddam Hussein’s Arabization policy. Iraqi security forces had been deployed to protect the PUK office. Some demonstrators had admitted that they had been incited to march by the Majlis al-Arabi, a group opposed to Kurdish domination. Some anti-Kurdish banners compared the “separatists” to ISIS, and a demonstrator who had been filmed chanting “We are Ba’athists, we are Saddamis” (Rudaw) was targeted the next day by an arrest warrant: the constitution prohibits any eulogy for the former regime (WKI). More than ever, opponents of any constitutional solution to the question of disputed territories appear to be defending the pure and simple resumption of Saddam Hussein’s Arabization policy.
On 10 July, Iraqi Kurdistan finally established a Regional Government (KRG), almost nine months after the parliamentary elections of 30 September 2018, which gave 45 seats out of 111 to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), 21 to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and 12 to the "Change Movement" (Goran). The KDP immediately indicated that it would seek a coalition with the PUK and Goran, but while the negotiations with Goran were quickly successful, those with the PUK were laborious and punctuated by clashes: this party wanted to include in the agreement the appointment of a PUK governor in Kirkuk, while the KDP considered that this issue should be addressed after the agreement... On 1st July, the KDP announced that an agreement had been reached with the PUK on the name of a common candidate (which was not specified), which paved the way for the formation of the new cabinet. To allow more time for it, the parliamentary session, which should have ended on 1st July, had been extended until 15 July...
Finally, these three parties indeed share the majority of portfolios: nine for the KDP, party of Prime Minister Masrour Barzani (in addition to the post of President of the Region), six for the PUK, four for Goran. One seat goes to the Kurdistan Democratic Socialist Party (KDSP), as well as one each to the Turkmen and Christian minorities. The Christian minister took his oath on a Bible that barely escaped destruction by ISIS. In the absence of a candidate, the Ministry of Natural Resources (mainly oil) remains temporarily in the hands of the Prime Minister. In addition, the new government counts three women: Ms. Begard Talabani (PUK), Agriculture and Water Resources; Ms. Kwestan Mohammad (Goran), Labour and Social Affairs, while Ms. Vala Farid (KDP), outgoing Speaker of Parliament, becomes Minister for Relations with Parliament. She was replaced as Speaker by Ms. Rewaz Fayak (PUK), elected by the MPs on 11 November, assisted by a Turkmen Vice-President, Ms. Mouna Qahwachi.
The new Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)
- Presidency: Nechirvan Barzani (KDP), President
- Mustafa Said Qadir (Goran), First Vice-President
- Jafar Sheikh Mustafa (PUK), Second Vice President
- President: Rewaz Fayak (PUK)
- Vice-Chairperson: Mouna Qahwachi (Turkmen)
Masrour Barzani (KDP), Prime Minister
Qubad Talabani (PUK), Deputy Prime Minister
Firsat Ahmed Abdulla (KDP), Minister of Justice
Reber Ahmed (KDP), Minister of the Interior
Saman Barzinji (KDP), Minister of Health
Alan Hama Said (KDP), Minister of Education
Sasan Awni (KDP), Minister of Municipalities and Tourism
Pishtiwan Sadiq (KDP), Minister of Religious Affairs (Awqaf)
Kamal Mohammed Salih (KDP), Minister of Electricity
Vala Farid (KDP), Minister of the Region in charge of relations with Parliament
Safîn Dizayî (KDP), Head of the International Relations Department
Shoresh Ismail (PUK), Minister of Peshmerga
Aram Mohammed (PUK), Minister of Higher Education
Dara Rashid (PUK), Minister of Planning
Begard Talabani (PUK), Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources
Mohammed Said Ali (PUK), Minister of Youth and Culture
Khalid Salam Said (PUK), Minister of the Region
Awat Sheikh Janab (Goran), Minister of Economy and Finance
Dana Abdulkarim (Goran), Minister of Construction and Housing
Kwestan Mohammed (Goran), Minister of Labour and Social Affairs
Kamal Muslim (Goran), Minister of Trade and Industry
Abdulla Mahmoud (PSDK), Minister of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs
Ano Jawhar (Christian), Minister of Communications and Transport
Aydin Maruf (Turkmen), Minister of the Region
The Erbil Parliament approved by a large majority the list submitted by the Prime Minister, who personally obtained 88 votes in the vote of confidence, while his Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani (PUK), who already held this position in the outgoing Cabinet, obtained 73 votes.
The Prime Minister then addressed the MPs, promising that his government would give priority to improving services and economic and administrative reforms. He also indicated that a delegation would quickly travel to Baghdad to strengthen relations (and probably discuss the issue of oil, an eternal bone of contention with Erbil). He also promised to fight corruption and tackle the serious financial crisis in Kurdistan, with, he said, “14 billion dollars in debt”.
The Council of Ministers held its first meeting on the 15th, issuing several decrees, including one ordering ministers to respect the working hours used in their ministries... The next day, a KRG delegation went to Baghdad to discuss the situation in the disputed territories and the issue of oil revenues.
On July 11, the official results of the Istanbul election were published, confirming the defeat of the AKP by 806,014 votes. But the government had not even waited until that date to put an end to its “pseudo-opening”: on 2 July it had rejected requests to visit Abdullah Öcalan by his lawyers, then another the following week. But Mr. Erdoğan still has something to worry about, as the economic situation continues to deteriorate: on the 11th, the employment agency İŞKUR announced a 8.1% increase in unemployment in June, 69% in one year, while Turkey is flirting with recession...
Then power is locking itself into authoritarianism and represses all sides. After unsuccessfully trying to ban LGBTI parades in June, it has just withdrawn scholarships from students who had participated in them, particularly in Ankara, for “involvement in incidents of terror or anarchy”. On the 6th, the Istanbul police again prevented the gathering of the “Saturday Mothers” by blocking all access to Galatasaray Square (TIHV). This month the police also repressed all rallies of the I Want My Job Back movement, formed by officials dismissed by emergency decree (TIHV). Attempts to commemorate the Suruç attack, which killed 33 people and injured hundreds on 20 July 2015 among HDP youth gathered in support of Kobanê, were also fiercely attacked. Injured MPs Erol Katırcıoğlu (HDP) and Ali Şeker (CHP) had to be hospitalized; in Ankara, eight members of a group trying to read a statement in Sakarya Square were beaten up and imprisoned; in Urfa, the rally was also banned. While the filling of the Ilisu reservoir is reported to have begun, demonstrations in defence of the Hasankeyf site were also repressed. On the 21st a fire broke out in the city; activists accused the authorities of allowing it to develop, in particular by not sending helicopters.
Several demonstrations of solidarity with Syrian refugees have also been attacked. The position of the authorities towards refugees has changed radically, again for electoral reasons. After having long used them as a means of pressure on the European Union and the “pro-Kurdish” opposition, the authorities are now talking about sending them back to Syria at war: with the deterioration of the economy, the AKP does not want to lose the support of the MHP... On the 23rd, the Interior Minister announced the deportation of 80,000 Syrians before the end of 2019. The day before, the Governor of Istanbul had given until August 20 to refugees registered elsewhere in Turkey to leave the city (Bianet). On the 27th in Fatih (Istanbul), a solidarity rally, although legal and supposedly protected by the police, was attacked by ultra-nationalists...
The HDP is still targeted by a campaign of arrests, often initiated by police raids on the homes of its officials. Already on 27 June, Dilan Ablay, a municipal councillor from Urfa, was arrested with his entire family. In Cizre, eight people were arrested while curfews were proclaimed in Dersim and Hakkari (WKI). At a checkpoint at Ağrı, Diyadin’s two co-mayors, having tried to protect a municipal driver from police brutality, were themselves attacked. One of them, hit on the head, was hospitalized; the surveillance videos from the town hall were seized illegally. On the 4th, a member of the HDP Youth Assembly in Kadiköy (Istanbul), İkram Doğan, testified that he had been taken into the forest by people declaring to be MIT agents, tortured and threatened with death (TIHV). On the 5th, nine people were arrested at Şırnak. The next day, Ankara police carried out further raids on two members of the HDP (WKI). On the 8th in Diyarbakir, police banned an HDP rally, prevented MP Dersim Dağ from reaching her office, and incarcerated her with two of her colleagues. HDP MP Saliha Aydeniz, who was protesting, was brutalized. On the same day, Mithat Kayan, Dersim (Tunceli) City Councillor, and Hüseyin Can were jailed after raids on their homes. Raids have also targeted the homes of three other HDP officials in Antalya. At Safiye Dalgıç’s house, members of the Special Forces put their guns to several relatives’ heads. Also on the 8th, it was reported that in Dersim, five people, including the father of an activist from the far-left TKP/ML-TİKKO, Özgüç Yalçın, had been charged with “propaganda for an illegal organization” for attending his funeral in 2015: he had died in a clash with the police. The defendants were sentenced to ten months in prison, but the verdict was suspended. On the 10th, the former mayors of Uludere and Şırnak were imprisoned, along with ten people in Erzurum, including the co-mayor of Karayazı; in Diyarbakir, the head of the local DBP branch was arrested. It was also on the 10th that the trial of the former HDP leader, Selahattin Demirtaş, who has now been in prison for almost three years, was restarted...
Less targeted than the HDP, the Kemalist opposition is not spared. For example, Canan Kaftancıoğlu, head of the Istanbul HPC: accused of “insulting the president” and “propaganda for a terrorist organisation” for her social network messages, she faces 17 years in prison (Bianet). At the end of the month, a new wave of arrests began: in Kars, eight people were imprisoned, and in Diyarbakir, police killed one person, described as a “PKK member” and wounded another. In Mardin and Diyarbakir, five political figures were imprisoned, including the co-mayors of the districts of Nusaybin and Bismil. In Izmir, twelve HDP members were jailed for “propaganda for a banned organization” (WKI).
Some rare semi-good news: still on the 10th, MP Leyla Güven was finally able to take the oath of office in parliament and take the seat she had conquered in June 2018. Imprisoned for ten months after her election, Güven had launched a hunger strike to protest against the isolation of political prisoners. Her first intervention in parliament was to call for an improvement in the treatment of prisoners who had participated in hunger strikes. On 19 July, the Gaziantep Regional Court cancelled for procedural reasons the sentences of the former metropolitan co-mayor of Diyarbakir Gültan Kışanak and the former MP and BDP co-president Sebahat Tuncel, who had got respectively 14 and 15 years’ imprisonment for “membership in a terrorist organisation”. However, the Court rejected their requests for release...
Significantly, on the 15th, Mersin MP Ali Mahir Başarır (CHP) submitted a parliamentary question to the Minister of Finance regarding a Batman woman, Tenzire Çetin. In 2015, she, who did not speak Turkish and could not read or write, indicated that she could not answer the questions of TurkStat statisticians. She has just been informed by post sha was fined 55,000 Turkish pounds (€9,000). Başarır asked in particular whether there had been other similar cases and whether the TurkStat employees involved would be prosecuted... (Bianet)
Another campaign of repression that has been going on for months is the one targeting the Academics for Peace, accused of “propaganda for a terrorist organization” for having signed in 2015 a petition condemning the violence of the security forces in Kurdistan in Turkey. According to the independent press agency Bianet (itself threatened with closure), between December 2017 and the end of June, 636 academics had gone to trial, and all those whose cases had been tried, 200, had been sentenced to prison. Of these 200, 36 verdicts were not suspended, 29 because their sentences were longer than 2 years, and 7 because they themselves refused the suspension. On 1st of July, several hearings were held for these cases. Two teachers from the Cultural University of Istanbul, Umut Azak and Erdem Üngür, and a third from the İşık University, received one year and three months each, with a suspended verdict (Bianet). On 11 November, the Association of University Instructors (ÜNİVDER) called for the release of Füsun Üstel and Tuna Altınel. On the 12th, the day on which new hearings were held, Sibel Bekiroğlu was in turn sentenced to one year and three months in prison, her verdict suspended.
However, on the same day, another Istanbul Court reported that it was waiting for the Constitutional Court’s decision to issue a verdict against three other academics. On 18 August, the Constitutional Court, following a request from CHP MPs, deprived the Higher Education Council from the power to launch investigations against academics, arguing that this [undermined] scientific autonomy and [exceeded] inspection powers’ (Bianet). Füsun Üstel, who has been in prison since May 8, was finally released on July 22 following the Supreme Court of Appeal’s decision that “persons convicted of terrorist propaganda cannot be considered members of a terrorist organization” and that they can be transferred to an open prison or released on probation. On 29 May, Tuna Altınel, a researcher in mathematics teaching in Lyon, arrested on 11 May, was released without judicial supervision. His imprisonment had provoked numerous reactions, including those of the Lyon Metropolitan Council (excluding the Rassemblement national), the European Mathematical Society, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Council for Higher Education and Research (CNESER), and in Turkey, students of the Franco-Turkish University of Galatasaray, where Altınel had graduated.
On the 30th, the Constitutional Court ruled that the freedom of expression of ten academics had been violated by their conviction for “terrorist propaganda”. Some university leaders, angered by this verdict, such as at the İbrahim Çeçen University in Ağrı or the Aydın, Altınbaş and Medeniyet universities of Istanbul, launched a signature campaign to denounce it, sending their staff for signature a statement openly condemning the Constitutional Court’s decision as “scandalous”. This is a crime, since according to article 138 of the Constitution, the decisions of the Constitutional Court are binding on everyone, and it also puts pressure on university employees. The text was circulated with 1071 signatures, a nationalist reference to the battle of Mantzikiert (Malazgirt) which saw the Seljuqs enter Anatolia following their victory over the Byzantines in 1071... but according to several so-called signatories, their names were written down without them even being informed! All this suggests that, despite the Constitutional Court’s verdict, the convicted academics, many of whom have lost their posts, will have to fight over their reintegration and compensation...
Another ongoing trial is the one on 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul. Among the 16 accused, the only one still incarcerated now is Civil rights defender and businessman Osman Kavala, who has been in prison for more than 20 months. During the second hearing, on the 18th, the Court decided by a majority that he should remain in detention. As the indictment was drawn up six years after the facts, defence lawyer Evren İşler asked: “If there had really been a crime committed against the government, would the prosecutors have waited six years to act?”... On 31 December, the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) changed the Court Board, effectively withdrawing the case from the hands of President Mahmut Başbuğ, who had voted on 18 December for the release of Kavala...
On 11 November, the HDP deputy of Siirt Meral Danış Beştaş called for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry into the increasing number of allegations of torture (Bianet). In particular, on the 3rd, the relatives of İrfan Kılıç were informed that he had committed suicide in the F-type prison of Kandıra, but the traces they saw on the body seem to point to a death under torture, and the family intends to request an investigation... (TIHV)
As for the friends of the government, even recent ones, no one bothers them: on 1st of July, the final hearing of the “Ergenekon” trial, opened 12 years ago by prosecutors since then accused of Gulenism, was held. 235 out of 239 accused were released (TIHV). Even knowing the arbitrariness of the charges, this collective acquittal is just as outrageous as the mass indictments currently underway. In addition, the former head of the Halkbank in the United States, Hakan Atilla, convicted in the case of sanctions against Iran, sent back to Turkey after his release, was welcomed on the 24th at Istanbul airport by Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, Mr. Erdoğan’s son-in-law...
Nationalist intolerance reached new heights in the country: on the 19th in Trabzon, after the attack in which the Turkish vice-consul in Erbil was killed, nine tourists from Iraqi Kurdistan were almost lynched, simply because they wore scarves in the colours of the Kurdistan Region... They were finally expelled.
In July, Turkey continued its anti-PKK military operations, including the “Claws” operation in Iraqi Kurdistan. At the end of June, a Turkish strike that had killed four people led to an official condemnation by the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which described it as a “unilateral act of war”. On 30 June, Ankara, considering this statement “unacceptable”, summoned the Iraqi ambassador, and the Turkish Foreign Minister stated that these operations would “continue resolutely”. At the end of the month, Kurdistan 24 reported an estimate by the commander of the Kurdistan border patrol, Sherko Zangana, that 400 villages had been evacuated by their inhabitants due to the conflict between the Turkish army and the PKK...
On the 4th, the Turkish media reported the death of two Kurdish militants the day before in an air strike in the Zab region, and on the 5th, four others in Xwakurk and three others in Qandil. On the 7th, the PKK confirmed the death on the 5th of a member of the Executive Council of the KCK (Union of Kurdish Communities), Diyar Gharib Mohammed, with two other militants, in a strike near the Qandil Mountains (the Anatolia Agency had dated his death earlier, from a strike on 27 June) (Kurdistan 24). On the 10th, further strikes were announced in which 15 PKK fighters were reportedly killed. Then on the 12th, the Turkish army launched Operation Claws-2 in Iraqi Kurdistan to “destroy the PKK caves and shelters” in the Xwakurk region (AP). On the 16th, a Turkish soldier was killed by an improvised explosive device in Iraqi Kurdistan (TIHV). On the 18th, a Turkish corporal was killed near Xwakurk.
But the most significant attack of the month occurred on the 17th in Erbil, where the Turkish vice-consul was shot dead with two other people in a restaurant in the Christian district of Ainkawa. This is the first attack of its kind. The perpetrator of the deadly fire, armed with two pistols, immediately fled. The PKK denied any involvement in the attack, but Ankara retaliated the next day with an air operation against Qandil, which according to the Turkish Minister of Defence destroyed several PKK shelters (AFP). On the 19th, a suspect was identified by Kurdistan Security: a 27-year-old Kurd from Diyarbakir named Mazlum Dağ, brother of MP HDP Dersim Dağ (a party that denounced the attack). Mazlum Dağ was arrested the next day with a man accused of complicity. The following night, Turkish air force wounded five civilians in the vicinity of Makhmur camp, which hosts Kurds from Turkey who had to flee the country in the early 1990s. The Turkish Ministry of Defence announced the deaths of two PKK members and one Turkish soldier, six of whom were wounded. Air strikes continued from 21 to 25, particularly near Dohuk, killing two PKK militants on the last day. On 27 July, the Turkish Ministry of Defence announced that it had “neutralized” 34 PKK militants in strikes on 17 and 19 July, sixteen on 17 July in Qandil and eighteen on 19 July in Karaçok, claims that could not be verified independently. On the 30th, at least seven other strikes damaged several farms in northern Iraqi Kurdistan, including near Amêdî.
Fighting also took place on the Turkish side of the border, particularly near Siirt: on 3 March, one soldier was killed and another wounded near Eruh; on 9 March, two others were wounded near Pervari in the explosion of a bomb that was detonated as their vehicle passed by. On 7 June, the media gave a belated report on the death on the 22nd of June of three Kurdish fighters in a bombing near Tatvan (Bitlis). Another was killed on the 7th in a strike on Şırnak. On the 9th, a bomb killed two soldiers in Hakkari (TIHV). On the 10th, five MLKP and PKK militants were killed in a clash with the Turkish army in the Munzur Valley (Dersim). On the 14th, three soldiers were killed and one wounded, again in Hakkari, and three Kurdish fighters killed (AFP). On the 15th, the PKK broadcast the video of the destruction of an anti-tank system and a radar dome by the PKK in an attack dated on the 5th in Şırnak (AMN). On the 16th, the Ministry of Defence claimed the “neutralisation” of 174 PKK fighters, but the PKK immediately denied any loss (Rûdaw). On the 19th, a Turkish major was killed near Çalıdüzü (Bitlis). On 29, sixteen villages in Tatvan (Bitlis) were placed under curfew during an anti-PKK operation. An identical measure had been imposed the previous week in the Dersim.
On 1st of July, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), after several months of discussions, signed an agreement with the United Nations at the Palais des Nations in Geneva to end the drafting of underage fighters. The document, whose signature has been announced on the United Nations website, provides that children under 18 will have to leave combat units and that disciplinary measures will be taken to prevent any future recruitment.
In addition, the territories controlled by the SDF and the Autonomous Administration of North-East Syria are still facing attacks attributed to the dormant cells of ISIS, including numerous crop fires, and the threat of a military invasion of Turkey. Indeed, the latter continues to use threatening language, still relying in Syria onto jihadist groups such as those it uses as auxiliaries in Afrîn.
However, as shown by the various reports recently published by the Reach Centre on the humanitarian situation in North-Western and North-Eastern Syria in March, the areas controlled by the Autonomous Administration remained safer and experienced far fewer population movements than those held by the opposition, the worst situation, with 75 to 100% of displaced people being found in the regions occupied by Turkey, and in particular the Afrin region, controlled by the jihadists supported by this country! (http://www.reachresourcecentre.info/system/files/resource-documents/reach_syr_factsheet_hsos_regional_factsheet_nes_march2019.pdf, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/reach_syr_factsheet_hsos_northwest_syria_march2019_0.pdf).
Besides, tensions are also rising around the Idlib region, the latest held by the opposition, which is mainly controlled by the former local branch of Al Qaeda, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, where the regime and its Russian ally continue their offensive. On the 2nd, the American command announced that it had hit Tahrir al-Sham there. On the 5th, bombardments killed fourteen civilians, including seven children. Since the end of April, more than 520 civilians have been killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). On the 11th, the SOHR estimated that more than 100 fighters from both sides, 57 from the regime and 44 rebels, were killed in a single day. The region is home to three million civilians, many of whom had found refuge there after the regime took over rebel-held areas such as Eastern Ghouta (AFP).
In northeastern Syria, tension also increased between the SDF and regime forces after the Asayish (Kurdish security) of Qamishli arrested several regime soldiers. The Syrian army retaliated by arresting four members of the Asayish. The SDF also recently arrested a pro-Damascus journalist in Hassakeh province (AMN).
In Afrîn, the exactions of pro-Turkish jihadists continued. Al-Monitor reported on the 3rd that a Kurdish man, Aslan Brim Sino, was killed in a prison controlled by the al-Mutasem Brigade. He had been detained there for ten months after being kidnapped in the village of Baadalni by another faction, Ahfad al-Rasul. Already on June 24, the body of another Kurd, Rashid Khalil, had been found near a village, bearing traces of torture. He had been kidnapped with his 11-year-old handicapped son and the kidnappers were demanding a ransom of $100,000 for each of them (SOHR). On the 11th, at least thirteen people, including eight civilians, six adults and two children, were killed in a car bomb explosion outside a rebel roadblock at the entrance to Afrîn, and 25 others were injured. A second explosion hit the city centre. The police attributed these attacks to the YPGs. In Qamishli, a car bomb attack on 11 November that injured about a dozen people near a church was claimed by ISIS, as well as a suicide car attack the following afternoon against the SDF Special Forces HQ in Tayyana (Deir Ezzor). The authorities strongly condemned these three attacks (AFP). At the end of the month, thirteen SDF members were wounded by another bomb in a village in Hassakeh.
On the 8th, the three-day “International Forum” on ISIS concluded in Qamishli, during which victims of the jihadist organization were able to testify. The next day, the Middle East Centre of the London School of Economics (LSE) published a report documenting ISIS’s attack on the Yezidi village of Kocho. This is the first publication of the Yazidi Victims Demographic Documentation Project, which aims to identify all victims of the ISIS attack on Sinjar, following an approach similar to that of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia’s Demography Section (https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/mec/2019/07/05/counting-mass-atrocity-a-demographic-documentation-of-isiss-attack-on-the-yazidi-village-of-kocho/). This project aims at creating a database that will facilitate the identification of victims exhumed from mass graves found in Iraq and Syria and the prosecution of the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity.
In al-Hol camp, where many jihadist prisoners are held, increased security measures were taken on 3 July after a woman who had been allowed to leave the camp to shop stabbed a guard before fleeing. A curfew was imposed and any exit from the camp was suspended until the recapture of the prisoner.
The future of the Autonomous Administration remains uncertain, as the Turkish government continues to be threatening. On the 9th, after the German government had rejected the day before an American request to deploy ground troops, Washington announced that the United Kingdom and France had given their agreement, without giving details on the number of troops planned (WKI). After the media reports announced that a major military operation was being prepared in Syria on the eastern Euphrates, YPG increased its presence on the Turkish border, while Washington advised Ankara not to launch a unilateral operation: Pentagon spokesman Sean Robertson said on Kurdistan 24 that Washington would “consider unacceptable” any “unilateral military action in North-Eastern Syria by anyone, especially when American personnel may be present or close”...
On the 14th and 15th, however, the Turkish army, continuing its deployment on its South-Eastern border, launched numerous indirect attacks on SDF-held areas in Syria, rockets targeting Tell Rifaat town and Minagh airbase, recently described by the nationalist media as “natural extensions of the Afrîn operation” (WKI). On the evening of 22 December, tension escalated again after a rocket fire from the town of Serê Kaniyê (Ras al-Ayn) in Syrian territory (between Qamishli and Kobanê) wounded five civilians on the Turkish side at Ceylanpınar. The SDF described the incident as “a provocative action by unknown persons seeking to sow discord and undermine the stability of the region” and announced that it would conduct an investigation. A suspect was arrested the next day. In response, however, the Turkish army launched an attack on several SDF border positions near Serê Kaniyê, reportedly killing five fighters. The Turkish Ministry of Defence announced the destruction of seven YPG sites (AMN).
On the same day, discussions took place in Ankara between Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and US envoy for Syria James Jeffrey on the establishment of a security zone in northern Syria. The next day, Turkish diplomacy chief Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu expressed his dissatisfaction with the American proposals, accusing the United States of trying to buy time: “We are running out of patience”, he said, threatening a military operation again. On 26 September, the authorities in Damascus denounced these Turkish-American talks as “interference” (AFP), while the Turkish President reiterated his threats of invasion... The SDF replied that they would resist any Turkish invasion, while demonstrations protesting Turkish threats were held in several cities in Northern Syria (WKI).
After its meeting on 30 September, the Turkish National Security Council issued a communiqué no longer mentioning a “security zone” on the Syrian side, but referring to the ongoing work to establish a “peace corridor” on the Turkish-Syrian border... The communiqué specifies: “In view of the increasing threats to our country posed by the lack of authority on the border with Syria, it has been confirmed that the region will be cleaned of any terrorist risk as part of our border security and that our determined efforts to form a ‘peace corridor’ will continue. As for the ‘peace corridor’, it is not yet clear whether it will be supported by Astana’s guarantors or whether it will be a line formed by Turkey” (Bianet).
With regard to intra-Kurdish relations in Syria, France offered to mediate discussions between the TEV-DEM (Movement for a Democratic Society), to which the PYD, a party leading the autonomous administration, is affiliated, and the Kurdish National Council (Encûmena Niştimanî ya Kurdî li Sûriyê, ENKS), which includes about ten Kurdish parties, including the Democratic Party of Kurdistan in Syria, founded in 1957 and predominant until 2012. In the past, these two entities had concluded agreements but they had not really been implemented. The situation may ease as a TEV-DEM official declared on the 9th in Rûdaw that he had no problem with Kurdish opposition parties reopening their offices, and that he invited them to participate in the future elections. The French mediation efforts were reported with disapproval on the 10th by the Anatolia State Agency, which criticized this country for “supporting the terrorist group PYD/PKK”.
Since ISIS’s military defeat, a thousand suspected jihadists have been imprisoned and 13,000 of their relatives, including women and children, have been living in Syria in camps for displaced persons under Kurdish control, with living conditions deemed “apocalyptic” by the Red Cross.
On July 2, lawyers for several families of these women and children filed a complaint against person unknown in Paris for arbitrary detention and confinement. They believe that the inaction of the French authorities makes them responsible for the situation of their clients, and hope that their complaints will lead to the case being referred to a judicial judge, a guarantor of fundamental freedoms. Despite several appeals introduced over the past year before the French administrative courts to force the State to repatriate its nationals, the families were unable to win their case, as the French administrative courts, including its highest court, the Conseil d’État, declared itself incompetent. Then several human rights associations published a common text calling for the repatriation of French children and the trial in France of French jihadists: the International Federation for Human Rights, the League for Human Rights, the Syndicat des avocats de France (France’s Lawyers Union), the Syndicat de la magistrature (Judicial Union), several academics and lawyers called on the French authorities to “repatriate as soon as possible and unconditionally all French children currently detained in Iraqi and Syrian territories” and to “adopt a strong diplomatic position aimed, while respecting the sovereignty of the States concerned, at ensuring that French nationals questioned on account of their membership in the Islamic State organisation are brought before the French courts to be tried”.
The French Association of Victims of Terrorism made the same appeal: “We wish to recall Article 37 of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 20 November 1989. States Parties shall ensure that no child is deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily”.
Until now, in a context of strong hostility from the public to repatriation, the French State has stuck to its positions, those of repatriating children only, and “on a case-by-case basis”: On 14 June, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe had already rejected by letter the requests addressed to him by the Human Rights Defender, former Minister Jacques Toubon, and the President of the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH), Jean-Marie Delarue. Both had been calling on the State to repatriate or improve the care of the children of French jihadists detained in Syria. Philippe argued that these minors are under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and that France has no “effective control” that would oblige a French Court to apply international conventions...
The transfer of many French prisoners to Iraq, where eleven of them were sentenced to death after trials deemed expeditious, has caused a new scandal. “A European state cannot hand over someone who may risk the death penalty”, Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, director general of Ensemble contre la peine de mort (ECPM, “Together against Death Penalty”), recalled in Le Monde.
In Syria, several dozen international experts met on the 6th in Amuda, near Qamishli, for a Forum involving 200 participants who came at the request of the authorities of the Autonomous Administration to examine the creation on the spot of a possible International Court to judge crimes committed by jihadists. The authorities, who call for the creation of this Court, also call on foreign countries to repatriate their nationals... “Ideally, a tribunal should be established in the region where the crimes were committed so that the population itself can participate in the judicial process”, argues one of the participants, Mahmoud Patel, a South African expert in international law. Stephen Rapp, former US War Crimes Ambassador and former prosecutor of the war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, believes that the most realistic option would be to establish a Kurdish court with “international assistance conditional on respect for international law”. Local authorities would be ready to try foreign jihadists in exchange for legal and financial assistance.
The new Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), led by Masrour Barzani, has clearly focused its efforts on establishing constructive relations with the Iraqi government. On July 10, in his address to the Erbil Parliament just after announcing his government, the new Prime Minister indicated that one of his main objectives would be to strengthen relations with Baghdad and resolve outstanding disputes between KRG and the Federal government. As early as the 16th, he led a high-level delegation to Baghdad to discuss the implementation of Article 140 of the Constitution and security cooperation: ISIS has continued to intensify its attacks in disputed territories. While the new President of the Kurdistan Region, Nechirvan Barzani, inaugurated his diplomatic action abroad by going to France on the 12th July, where he was warmly received by President Macron, the Prime Minister made his first trip to Baghdad....
On the 22nd, Baghdad and Erbil formed a Joint Committee to try to resolve their disputes over KRG’s oil obligations under the 2019 budget (ISHM). On the evening of the 25th, a federal delegation including Finance Ministers Fouad Hussein and Petroleum Minister Thamir Ghadhban arrived in Erbil to meet a Commission led by First and Deputy Prime Ministers Masrour Barzani and Qubad Talabani. The following day, it was announced that several technical working groups would be formed under the aegis of the Joint Committee to seek pragmatic and constitutional solutions to disputes concerning disputed territories, budgetary issues and oil. These groups will start working in Baghdad in early August (NRT, WKI). On 31 December, the Finance Committee of the Baghdad Parliament asked to question the Minister of Finance about the payments made to the KRG while the latter has still not complied with its oil delivery obligations (ISHM).
On the 23rd, according to the head of Iraqi forensic medicine, Dr Zaid al-Youssef, the exhumations of more than 70 bodies, including those of women and children – from birth to 10 years old – discovered in the desert south of Muthanna province, near Tell al-Sheikhiya (300 km south of Baghdad), began. They are Kurdish victims of Saddam Hussayn’s regime, brought from Germiyan and executed during Operation Anfal in 1987-88. The doctor indicated that underneath the remains being exhumed there could be “a second, deeper, layer” with additional bodies... About sixty mass graves have already been discovered in this province and it is quite possible that the same number remains. Interrupted over the weekend after a request from the only survivor of these executions, Teymur Abdullah, the exhumation process resumed on the 29th. But a scandal broke on the 30th when relatives of victims wishing to enter the site to identify family members were prevented by an officer from doing so because of the Kurdish flag draped around their necks. The officer in charge was imprisoned and the governor of the province apologized officially; the Kurdish parties in the Iraqi Parliament condemned a lack of respect for the Kurdish flag, which is officially recognized in the Constitution, and on 31 March, Iraqi President Barham Salih received the families in Baghdad. But an Iraqi parliamentarian from Basra, Oday Awad (Fatih coalition), instead supported the offending officer, calling the apology a “shame” in the face of “the lack of respect shown for the Iraqi flag every day in the Kurdistan Region” (Rûdaw). On 17 July, the Kurdish Minister of Anfal Affairs had called on the federal government to sign the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in order to allow the prosecution of genocide perpetrators....
With regard to the disputed territories, on 4 July, after numerous fires affected Kirkuk province, the recently established Committee of the Erbil Parliament to monitor the situation of the “Kurdish Territories outside the Region” visited the province for the first time since it came back under Baghdad’s control in October 2017. Its members did not enter the city but visited the Qarahanjir sub-district. The Committee is expected to submit its report shortly to the Presidency of the Kurdish Parliament, which will describe how it has noted an increase in violations of the rights of Kurdish residents. Its rapporteur, Mala Nasr, said: “We are trying to work for the return of the Peshmergas through the KRG and Kurdish parliamentarians in Baghdad, in order to put an end to the current situation in Kirkuk”. On the 3rd of March, the Deputy Speaker of the Baghdad Parliament, Bashir Hadad, announced the formation of its own Commission on disputed territories, whose work will be monitored by the United Nations. On 6 June, another committee of the Federal Parliament, the Committee on Security, after visiting Kirkuk and the Sunni-majority cities of Kirkuk, Mosul, Diyala, Salahaddin and Anbar provinces, published its report calling for the rapid transfer of security to the Federal police, arguing that the many violations by the security forces, otherwise unable to stop jihadist attacks, have exacerbated tensions. But the Federal police are not without their stains either: Kurdish villagers in Daquq have accused them of illegally burning down five houses. Some MEPs supported the report, but also called for new police units to be formed from the local population, so that control could be returned to the residents.
In addition, ISIS has taken advantage of the “security vacuum” of 40 km separating Iraqi and Peshmerga forces to resume its activities, and this month, attacks and clashes have been literally incessant. In Diyala, a bomb wounded two soldiers on July 1st, a grenade killed a person in a market on July 3, and a new explosion wounded a civilian on July 7, with two police officers arriving at the scene wounded in an ambush. On the same day, Iraq announced a major anti-ISIS operation called “Will to Victory” in Nineveh (Nineveh), Salahaddin, and Anbar, near the Syrian border (ISHM), involving 20,000 fighters from the army and Hashd al-Shaabi or tribal militias.
On the 9th, the Iraqi Prime Minister announced an agreement between the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Peshmerga in Erbil to jointly provide security for 500 km of the Syrian border. Regarding the security of the disputed territories and in particular Kirkuk, recalling the complexity of the situation, he indicated that his Government was continuing to discuss with the KRG. According to the Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Peshmerga, Jabar Yabar, security in cities could be provided by the Federal police, with the Baghdad-Erbil agreement applying outside urban areas....
On the 12th, a few hours after the launch of another anti-ISIS operation in Diyala, four Hashd members were killed by a bomb near Sa’diya. On the 16th, jihadists attacked a village south of Kirkuk, killing two residents (ISHM). On the 17th, seven residents of Diyala were wounded by a bomb. The International Anti-ISIS Coalition had to resume its bombardments: on the 13th, an air strike killed four jihadists in Nineveh province (Kurdistan-24); between the 15th and 17th, three others strikes killed seven jihadists in Salahaddin and eight in Diyala, and on the 19th, a strike on a ISIS camp killed ten jihadists in Nineveh. In Khanaqin (Diyala), a civil society organization protesting against the deteriorating security situation launched a petition calling for the implementation of Article 140 of the Constitution, collecting 3,000 signatures in one day (Kurdistan-24).
On the 20th, the second phase of “Will to Win” was launched. The next day, the Iraqi army killed seven jihadists in Nineveh. On the same day, mortar fire and a bomb killed one person and wounded two civilians in a village in Diyala. On 23 March, jihadists attacked a village south of Mosul and killed two residents, and on 25 March, another village in Daquq (Nineveh), killing one person and injuring three civilians. On the 24th, nine members of the same family were killed in Daquq when the Federal police mistook their vehicle for a bomb car. An investigation into the incident has been opened. Many Kurdish villagers in the Daquq region are leaving their homes due to the increasing number of terrorist attacks and the deteriorating security situation. In Sinjar, five jihadists who tried to infiltrate a village on the 24th were intercepted by peshmerga and Haider Shesho’s Yezidi Ezidkhan fighters, who killed four of them, two others detonating themselves (Kurdistan-24). On the 25th, jihadists executed two Yezidis before being chased by the Iraqi military, who killed three of them. On the same day, “friendly fire” between Iraqis caused the death of a police officer and several civilians. On the 26th, about ten mortars shells hit the Kakayi village of Topzawa, south of Kirkuk. Other shootings in nearby villages left one dead and two wounded, all civilians.
On 28 July, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior announced that, in coordination with the KRG, it had foiled a “large-scale terrorist plot” to carry out numerous attacks throughout the country, including Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region, during the month of Ramadan in May and June. 160 jihadists were arrested in Nineveh and 40 others in Baghdad. On the 29th, security forces announced that they had foiled an attack on security forces at the Olas oil field in the Hamrin Mountains (Salahaddin), 200 km north of Baghdad. Attacks on the same site had already been repelled in May (Kurdistan-24). On the same day, a new explosion in Diyala killed two civilians. On the 31st, jihadists attacked a checkpoint in Salahaddin, killing three militiamen and two police officers, and another group attacked Kurdish security in Kifri (Diyala), with at least five people killed and eight injured (ISHM). On the same day, a US military delegation visited Erbil to discuss the security situation. The increase in ISIS’s activity, American aid, coordination between Erbil and Baghdad, and the need to unify the 240,000 peshmergas of the Region, still mostly under separate chains of command by each of the two main Kurdish parties (Kurdistan-24), were discussed.
On the 23rd, the Iraqi Parliament approved an amendment to the Electoral Law setting the date of the next provincial elections as 1st April 2020. This decision does not apply to the Kurdistan Region, which will determine its date independently, but it concerns the province of Kirkuk, which is still de facto subject to martial law, with security being entrusted to the Iraqi security forces... Opposed to this decision, the KDP and the PUK boycotted the session: they want the situation to be normalized before the election is held, fearing that in the current situation the Kurds will be deprived of their electoral rights. Kirkuk has not had a provincial election since 2005. Parliament had first failed on July 10 to amend the law, precisely because of the dissensions over Kirkuk....
Another feature of the month’s news was the growing tension due to Turkish military operations. With Ankara’s launch last May of a major anti-PKK offensive on the territory of Iraqi Kurdistan, four hundred villages had to be evacuated because of the Turkish strikes, and the number of civilian deaths caused by these strikes is increasing. Local opinion is beginning to question the Turkish military presence. On 2 July, additional peshmergas had to be sent to Dohuk after a group threatened to attack the Turkish military (ISHM). On 6 June, the Kurdish Parliament denounced the Turkish air strikes and called on Baghdad to fulfil its constitutional duty to protect Kurdish citizens and borders. Turkey is not alone concerned: on the 10th, the KRG also called on Iran to stop bombing its border areas after a teenage girl was killed and two of her brothers wounded in Bradost (Kurdistan-24).
But relations with Turkey became even more complicated after the 17th, when, in the most serious attack in years on Erbil, the Turkish deputy consul in Kurdistan, Osman Kose, was shot dead in a restaurant in Erbil by a man with two pistols who was able to escape... The PKK denied any involvement, but the KRG accused him of being behind the attack. On 24 September, KRG Security announced the capture of the main suspect in this case, a Kurdish man from Turkey. On the same day, the KRG denounced the attack on seven tourists from Kurdistan by Turkish nationalists in Trabzon, simply because they wore scarves reproducing the Kurdish flag. These events come a few weeks after the announcement of the forthcoming opening of two new border crossing points with Iran and Turkey: in a context of growing economic difficulties for these two countries, the landlocked Kurdistan Region remains more than ever marked by economic interdependence with its neighbours...
US sanctions continue to suffocate the Iranian economy. In June, the country exported only 300,000 barrels per day, compared to 2.5 million in April 2018. On 24 July, the Statistical Office announced that prices had increased by 48% compared to last July – the highest rate since 1975. But it is only an average, with a higher increase in fruit and vegetables, with a record for meat: 95% (Radio Farda). More and more Kurds from Iran are choosing to work in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the economic situation is better. Without a long-term visa, they regularly return to Iran for a week and then come back... (AFP)
Internationally, after the attacks on foreign ships in the Gulf in June, the situation is beginning to look like a “tanker war”: on 4 July, the Iranian tanker Grace-1, accused of transporting oil to the Banyas refinery in violation of European Union sanctions against Syria, was detained in Gibraltar by the British authorities. Iran denied any Syrian destination, and on the 10th, President Rohani warned the United Kingdom about the “consequences” of its action. A few hours later, Iranian boats were trying to board a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. They had to give up when the frigate HMS Montrose, who was escorting him, pointed its guns at them... On the 13th, the Foreign Office indicated that Grace-1 could be allowed to leave Gibraltar if Iran guaranteed that it would not sail to Syria. On 14 July, Iran intercepted a Panamanian tanker, the Riah, accused of transporting contraband oil (which Panama confirmed), and on 19 July, a Swedish tanker flying the British flag, the Stena Impero, for “non-compliance with the International Maritime Code”...
This deleterious international situation increases internal tensions: worried, the regime intensifies its repression. In Kurdistan, armed clashes with Kurdish opposition parties are on the increase. Already, on June 30 in Choman, on the Iraqi side, fighting had already started between KDPI peshmergas and Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards), who had used heavy artillery (WKI). On the 2nd, near Chaldiran (Western Azerbaijan), two Pasdaran died in a fight against a “counter-revolutionary group” (Rûdaw). According to the semi-official Fars agency, two Kurdish fighters were also killed and others wounded; weapons, explosives and means of communication were seized. The Kurdish party involved was not specified (NRT). Earlier the same day, Kurdish sources had reported a clash between pasdaran and members of the PJAK, the Iranian party of the PKK movement, and other reports spoke of an attack by pasdaran against kolbars (carriers) between Piranshahr and Choman.
On the 9th, the Mehr agency announced that three Pasdaran had been killed and one injured in an attack on their vehicle, also in Piranshahr. On the 10th, the KDPI claimed responsibility for the attack and reported that reprisal bombardments at its sites near Choman (Erbil) had killed three people (ISHM). On the same day, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), after the death of a teenage girl near Sidakan (Bradost), called for Iran to stop its bombing. Then further clashes were reported on the Iranian side further south near Javanrud (Jwanro), where two Iranian soldiers were killed (Kurdistan 24). Confirming on 12 December that they had struck for three days, including with drones, “terrorist camps and training centres”, the Pasdaran recommended that residents “stay away” (AFP). These strikes forced the evacuation of five villages and made many fields inaccessible. On the 26th, further fighting broke out near Sarvabad (south-east of Marivan), where one pasdar was killed and two others wounded. Kurdish losses were not reported (WKI).
In addition to the fighting, the Kurdish provinces of Iran have been affected by numerous arson attacks. Some had already occurred at the end of June, near Sanandaj (on the 29th), and Saqqez where residents were able to control the fire (WKI). Another fire started on the 6th in Ravansar (between Kermanshah and Paveh), which according to the Kurdistan Human Rights Association (KMMK) injured three Kurds. In Saqqez, 128 arson attacks were started within one month (WKI). These attacks continued until the end of the month, affecting the Qorveh forest region near Sanandaj, as well as the Chardavol district (Ilam).
The regime also continued its deadly ambushes against Kurdish cross-border porters, the kolbars. Already, in the last week of June, at least one of them had been killed and two others wounded in Baneh, and one injured in Hawraman. During the first week of July, three others were killed and four wounded: among others, on the 4th, a Piranshahr kolbar wounded earlier this month died of his injuries, and on the 6th, another one was killed near Sardasht. Since early 2019, the regime has killed 43 kolbars and wounded 79... On the 13th, a kolbar was seriously wounded near Khoy, and on the 15th an ambush against a group near Sardasht killed one and wounded three. The Human rights organization Hengaw reported that another was killed near the village of Gawalani (WKI). According to Hengaw, another kolbar was killed and six others wounded on the 20th near Chaldiran (or Siyah Cheshmeh). On the 21st, according to Hengaw, the pasdaran even penetrated 4 km into Iraq near Haji Omran. Confiscating 440 sheep belonging to nomads, they arrested eleven people, mostly shepherds who came to collect their animals. The men were released after a request by the KRG, but the sheep were not returned (Kurdistan 24).
On the 22nd, another kolbar was wounded near Nowsud. The KMMK accused the border guards of seizing the transported goods after the attack (WKI). Then on the 28th, Iranian border guards captured two fruit and vegetable sellers on the Iraqi side who had come by car to sell their products in Bradost, and then approached the border to look for ice. On the 27th, after another ambush against kolbars, the Iranians shot down twenty of their horses and confiscated the loads. According to the KMMK, the regime holds in Sanandaj for 12 million euros of goods confiscated from kolbars...
At the same time, arrests and convictions of activists continued. In Kamyaran, Etelaat (Intelligence Service) arrested Kurdish activist Sirwan Ibrahimi in late June during a raid on his home, confiscating his mobile phone and laptop, as well as Minat Rahmani, a Kurdish teacher from the Nozhen Cultural Association (KMMK). In Kermanshah, eleven Kurds were imprisoned, mainly environmental activists. In Sanandaj, a revolutionary court sentenced Kurdish activist Madeh Fatihi, who had already spent 20 months in detention from a previous sentence (WKI), to four years’ imprisonment. On July 8, Maryam Mohammadi, a women’s rights activist and member of the Nedaye Zanane Iran association (“Appeal of Iranian Women”) was held incommunicado by the security forces. She had already been summoned to the prosecutor’s office of Evin prison, along with two other women of the same association, Asrîn Darkaleh and Nergis Khorrami, who were then arrested in Tehran during the Women’s Day ceremonies. Other members of Nedaye Zanane Iran are on parole... (HRANA) In Dehgolan, Etelaat arrested a Kurd named Mohammed Karawnan for “links with an opposition Kurdish party”. In Marivan, Ettelaat agents arrested five Kurdish members of an environmental initiative called the “Green Council”. Etelaat also arrested ten Kurds for political activism in Mahabad, Saqqez, Oshnavieh (Shno) and Bokan. In Urmia, the Revolutionary Court confirmed the seven-year prison sentence of a Kurd called Mohammed Hanoka for “belonging to a Kurdish opposition party”. The KMMK estimates that 210 politically active Kurds have been detained since the beginning of 2019. In Sanandaj, Security Police arrested another Kurdish man, Ramadan Sultanian, on the 12th without formal charges. In Mahabad, Etelaat officers held two brothers incommunicado, without specifying any charges either.
On 16 December, the CHRI (Center for Human Rights in Iran) released its report on the violation of children’s rights in Iran (https://iranhumanrights.org/wp-content/uploads/Iran-Child-Fact-Sheet-FINAL.pdf). Among the data recorded are executions of minors (7 to date, and 90 minors are currently on death row in Iran, making Iran the sad record holder), child marriages (the legal age for girls is 13 years with the consent of the father and a judge), child labourers (there are reportedly three million), street children (estimated at 200.000), migrant children... Note that in addition to this particular report, the CHRI reports page (https://www.iranhumanrights.org/2018/10/fact-sheets-and-infographics-on-human-rights-in-iran/) contains four other reports, one of which concerns human rights in general, and another the deaths of political prisoners in detention...
On the 16th, four Kurds convicted of murder were hanged in Urmia (Hengaw). On the same day, the Urmia Revolutionary Court sentenced a Kurdish man from Mako, Mohammed Mirzai, to five years in prison for “endangering national security” and “belonging to a Kurdish party”. On the 22nd, the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence announced, according to ISNA, that it had arrested 17 people “spying for the CIA”, some of whom risked the death penalty for “spreading corruption on earth” (mofsed-e fil arz). On the 29th, political prisoner Mohammad Nazari, detained in Urmia, was denied permission to go to the hospital for tests for his stomach cancer, discovered a month earlier. Nazari, a member of the Turkish-speaking Azeri community, was sentenced to death in 1994 for “belonging to a Kurdish opposition party”. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1999, but he was never granted leave, even to attend the funeral of his father, mother, brother and sister (Iran HRM). In Sanandaj at the end of the month, activist Khalil Karimi, sentenced to one year in prison for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic” after conducting strikes and protests in defence of workers’ rights, had his sentence reduced to two months. In Ourmia, the Kurdish singer Peyman Mirzazadeh, sentenced on 20 to two years’ imprisonment for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic” after singing Kurdish nationalist songs in a concert, and a hundred lashes (80 for “blasphemy” and 20 for “alcohol consumption”), went on hunger strike on the 29th, the day after he received the lashes, which left his back and legs in a terrible state (Iran HRM).
Two other pieces of news concern crimes committed by the regime in the past. On 9 July, the KDPI organised a demonstration in Brussels to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the murder in Vienna of its Secretary General Abdulrahman Ghassemlou in July 1989, which brought together several hundred people. The recently elected MEP Evin Incir, herself of Kurdish origin, indicated on that occasion that she wanted to raise the Kurdish issue in the Brussels Parliament.
Finally, on July 18, HRANA put online its report Identifying and introducing the mass graves of executed in 1980’s massacres in Kazerun (https://www.en-hrana.org/identifying-and-introducing-the-mass-graves-of-executed-in-1980s-massacres-in-kazerun). These are the mass executions perpetrated against tens of thousands of political prisoners throughout Iran between 1981 and 1988, whose victims were buried in secret mass graves. The one presented in the report was discovered in Kazerun (Fars), after others, found in Bandar-e Gaz and Ahvaz. The document, based on field research and interviews with witnesses, estimates that there are 40 to 50 victims.
Since 1908, the announced but ephemeral end of censorship of the Ottoman press, the “Press and Journalists Day” has been celebrated in Turkey on 24 July. But this year, professional organisations issued a press release (http://bianet.org/english/media/210760-good-news-of-3-months-constitutional-court-rulings-on-press-freedom-violation) recalling that the country currently has 134 imprisoned journalists, hundreds of whom have had their press cards cancelled, more than 10,000 of whom have lost their jobs, and that, with 95% of the media controlled by the government, Turkey is ranked 157th for press freedom... In such a context, they therefore consider that there is nothing to celebrate... (Bianet)
In addition, the authorities launched a new attack on the press and journalists on 6 June, under the cover of the “Turkish Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research” (Turkish acronym SETA). In a 200-page document presented as a “scientific study”, entitled Extensions of International Media in Turkey (Uluslararasi medya kuruluşlarinin Türkiye uzantilari), the SETA has published a real personal file of journalists working for foreign media. Supposedly “independent, non-profit and non-partisan”, the SETA was founded in 2006 by... İbrahim Kalın, now spokesman for the Turkish Presidency! Last March, the organisation had already published a 666-page report entitled “PKK structures in Europe” (Avrupa’da PKK yapilanmasi) in which various structures were mentioned in a jumble, including solidarity associations with the Kurds (and the Kurdish Institute of Paris). For lack of argument, pictures unrelated to the text were sometimes inserted “in the right place”... The new report lists the professional background and social network messages of journalists working in Turkish programmes of the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Voice of America, Sputnik, Euronews etc. It also mentions Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and several critical Turkish newspapers or websites such as BirGün, T24, Bianet, Evrensel, Cumhuriyet and Diken, which he accuses of “making their front page with anti-government information”.
This document caused outrage and concern. On the 8th, the Turkish Journalists’ Union (TGS) filed a complaint for “recording personal data” and “incitement to animosity and hatred”, followed on the 9th by the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), which also accused the SETA of “incitement to commit crimes” through the public (and illegal) dissemination of journalists’ personal data. The Association’s co-president, jurist Veysel Ok, said that by seeking to associate independent journalists with terrorism, the document puts their lives at risk, and looks more like “a police report rather than a scientific study”. On the same day, the TGS, the Association of Journalists of Turkey (TGC), the Centre PEN Turkey, the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK), the Press Union, the Writers’ Union of Turkey (TYS), the Turkish Publishers’ Association (TÜRKYAYBİR), the News Union (HABER-SEN) and the Journalists’ contemporary association (ÇGD) denounced the report in a joint press conference and warned that they would hold SETA responsible if anything happened to one of their colleagues (Bianet).
On the 10th, 21 international organisations in turn issued a joint statement with Reporters Without Borders. Noting that the report seeks to intimidate journalists by equating the exercise of their profession with links to terrorist organisations, they warn of the danger of such a “witch hunt” in the current Turkish context of “political tension and polarisation”. On the same day, CHP MP and former journalist Utku Çakırözer added to the outrage by revealing that SETA had been exempted from taxes in 2013 by the Council of Ministers. Noting that the tax exemption normally concerns activities in the “public interest”, Çakırözer ironically asked whether harassing journalists now falls into this category... On the 12th, the German Minister of State for Culture and Media, Monika Grütters, in turn condemned the SETA report, “[firmly rejecting] the accusations of biased information against Deutsche Welle”, recalling that “the freedom of expression and of the press are essential preconditions for any democracy”.
Just before these events, on 1st of July, the Free Journalists Initiative (Özgür Gazeteciler İnisiyatifi, ÖGİ) published its quantitative report on violations of journalists’ rights for January-June 2019: 154 journalists were imprisoned, 34 detained, 11 of whom were subsequently arrested; 29 were investigated and 8 prosecuted... 287 were tried and 41 were sentenced, to a total of 119 years and 3 months’ imprisonment. Finally, 22 journalists were released and 1 media organization was the subject of a police raid (TIHV). Almost at the same time, the Turkish Association for Freedom of Expression (İfade Özgürlüğü Derneği, IFÖD, founded in 2017) released the English version of its own report, EngelliWeb 2018, which more broadly concerns the blockages introduced in 2018 against websites, news articles and social media in Turkey: in 2018, the barely credible 54,903 sites were blocked. However, it is only the last addition to the 190,922 domains blocked before 2018. In total, there are 245,825 blocked domains... The IFÖD report also includes some data from Twitter sources: in 2018, the firm received from Turkey 1,105 court injunctions, 12,897 requests for withdrawal of posts and 22,998 requests for account deletions... (report in Turkish https://ifade.org.tr/reports/EngelliWeb_2018.pdf, in English https://ifade.org.tr/reports/EngelliWeb_2018_Eng.pdf. If ever the Turkish site was blocked (it might happen after all…), the English version is also downloadable from the United States (https://globalfreedomofexpression.columbia.edu/publications/engelliweb-2018-an-assessment-report-on-blocked-websites-news-articles-and-social-media-content-from-turkey/). On the subject of blocked websites, on 16 July, the website http://geziyisavunuyoruz.org, which has been informing the public since 20 May about the progress of the Gezi trial, was the victim of a blocking order (Bianet).
On 2 February, Tuma Çelik, HDP deputy of Mardin, called for a parliamentary inquiry into the impartiality of the TRT State television: according to a report from İsmet Demirdögen, a member of the RTÜK (Turkish Broadcasting Council), TRT gave 53 hours of broadcasting time to the AKP-MHP tandem before the last elections, against 14 hours to the CHP, and... nothing to the HDP (Bianet).
At the same time, trials and convictions of journalists continued. On 2 February, the director of the OdaTV news site, Barış Pehlivan, was sentenced to five months’ imprisonment for comments about Fethullah Gülen left by readers following a complaint filed by the latter’s lawyers. On 3 July, cameraman Kamil Murat Demir, arrested at his hotel in Çorum where he had come to shoot a reportage, learned at the hearing of the charge against him: “propaganda for an illegal organization”. He was released on bail.
Rare good news, on 5 July, the Constitutional Court overturned life sentences for “violation of the constitution” of journalists Ahmet Altan, his brother Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak; but on the other count, support for the Gulenist organisation, accused by the authorities of the July 2016 coup attempt, it refused to release the defendants... (Bianet) In addition, it ordered the State to compensate several people convicted, for the “violation of their freedom of speech”. Thus three journalists are to receive 95,207 Turkish pounds (about €15,000), and fifteen others should get 7,500 pounds each... But the requests of six former directors and journalists of the Cumhuriyet newspaper have been rejected.
On 7 July, the final hearing was held for Aslı Ceren Aslan, former executive director of the newspaper Özgür Gelecek, closed by emergency decree in October 2016. Arrested in February 2017, he received six years, ten months and fifteen days in prison for “propaganda for an illegal organization”.
On the 9th, the case of Çiğdem Toker was heard in Ankara. After she published an article in Cumhuriyet in October 2017 entitled “If you are looking for austerity check the tenders for the metro”, Şenbay Mining Corporation requested £ 1.5 million in damages. On the 4th, the final hearing for 19 journalists from the Dicle agency, closed by emergency decree, was held at Şırnak One of the witnesses, Aytaç Yalman, said he signed his statement under torture without reading it. Reporter Ziya Ataman did not present his defence due to the absence of a Kurdish translator at the hearing. The prosecutor requested sentences against nine of the accused, including for “damage to the unity and integrity of the State”, “deliberate and premeditated murder of a public official by reason of his duties”, “deliberate damage to public property by explosives”. The nine accused were kept in detention and the trial was adjourned until 24 September. On the same day, the journalist Işıl Özgentürk received for her article in Cumhuriyet last January, “The new generation of veiled women”, 18 months’ imprisonment for “inciting public hatred and hostility and insulting the public” (TIHV). On the 9th, journalist Ferhat Parlak of the local daily Silvan Mücadele (Silvan’s Struggle), who had been imprisoned for 15 months in Diyarbakir following the accusation made by an anonymous witness of “belonging to an illegal organisation”, was released at his first hearing. The witness, Bilal Cesur, who finally appeared through the SEGBIS video system with his face uncovered, said “not knowing Parlak” and not knowing if he had any links with the organization or not... (Bianet) What about a charge of false testimony after a statement that threw an innocent man in jail for fifteen months??
On the 11th, Hüseyin Aykol, former "Co-Editor-in-Chief" of the daily Özgür Gündem, was jailed. He appealed against his sentence of three years and nine months in prison for participating in the newspaper’s support campaign. His appeal having been dismissed, he should be imprisoned in Sincan (Ankara). Aykol is only one of the 38 defendants prosecuted for having agreed in solidarity to symbolically become the newspaper’s editor for a day...
On the 16th, the fourth hearing was held for Deniz Yücel, Die Welt’s former Turkish correspondent, accused of “propaganda for a terrorist organisation” for publishing an interview with Cemil Bayik, one of the PKK’s founders, in 2015. Despite the Constitutional Court’s ruling that his arrest violated his rights, Yücel was not acquitted. As the Court had not yet received the statement of the accused, who had returned to Germany after one year’s preventive imprisonment, the Court adjourned the hearing to 17 October pending its receipt. The Turkish President had personally described the journalist as a terrorist... (Bianet)
On the 18th, the two documentary filmmakers Ertuğrul Mavioğlu and Çayan Demirel were sentenced to four years and six months in prison in Batman for “propaganda for a terrorist organisation” following their documentary Bakur (“North”) on the PKK. The director of the Committee to protect journalists in New York, Carlos Martinez de la Serna, said these heavy sentences were “only the latest example of the use of the Turkish anti-terrorist law to crush freedom of expression”, calling on the Turkish authorities to “drop the charges and stop the confusion between media coverage of terrorism and terrorism itself”.
In a rare good news, on the 17th, Erol Önderoglu, representative of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in Turkey, accused of “terrorist propaganda” for participating in the solidarity campaign with Özgür Gündem, was finally acquitted after a long trial. He was facing more than 14 years in prison. Writer-journalist Ahmet Nesin and the President of the Human Rights Foundation, Sebnem Korur Fincanci, who were tried in the same trial, were also acquitted. RSF said it was relieved, while denouncing “three years of absurd procedures”. But Önderoglu, currently abroad, has not finished with Turkish justice: prosecuted, again for “terrorist propaganda”, this time for having supported the “Academics for Peace”, he will be tried on 7 November (AFP, Bianet).
Being cleared of a charge does not mean the end of the trouble: on the 24th, Ahmet Nesin, who was acquitted on the 17th in the Özgür Gündem case, faced with the administration’s refusal to return his confiscated passport or to issue a new one, ended up filing a request to renounce Turkish nationality. According to his lawyer, 22 people are in the same case, some of whom have never been prosecuted.
Turkey’s international relations continue to deteriorate. With the United States, President Erdoğan still refuses to give in on the purchase of the Russian S-400 defence system, having even declared after the G-20 that the American President supported it! On the 12th, the Turkish Defence Minister announced the receipt of the first elements of the system, which was broadcast on television. While American diplomats were visiting Ankara, Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu indicated on the 22nd that Turkey would not hesitate to retaliate if the United States maintains its decision to exclude Turkey from the F-35 stealth aircraft project. If Turkey does not receive the 100 aircraft ordered, he said, it will “turn to other sources” until it is able to “produce its own aircraft”.
The situation is no better with the European Union. On 3 July, the EU delegation to the Council of Europe published on its website a statement on Human rights in Turkey expressing its concern about the situation, in particular for the Gezi demonstration trial (https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/council-europe_en/64979/EUDEL%20Statement%20on%20human%20rights%20in%20Turkey), full report in PDF format: https://eeas.europa.eu/printpdf/64979_en). In particular, it states: “The EU regrets that the fact that it has received legitimate foreign funding for civil society has been used as an incriminating factor in this case”. The EU also warns that “concrete and sustainable improvements in the field of human rights and the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, including respect for the principle of the presumption of innocence and due process of law, remain essential for the development of EU-Turkey relations”.
On 9 July, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Turkey had violated Selahattin Demirtaş’s freedom of expression by criminally condemning it for expressing its views in a television programme in 2010. The ECHR considers that the statements of Demirtaş “cannot be regarded as containing a call for the use of violence, armed resistance or uprising, nor as constituting hate speech”. Speaking at the time as president of the Diyarbakir Human Rights Association, Demirtaş had called for consideration of the possible role of the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in seeking a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question in the country. However, one can only be shocked by the ridiculously low sentence handed down by the ECHR against Turkey: € 2,500 for moral damage at Demirtaş and € 1,000 for legal costs (AFP). This is nothing to deter the Turkish government from continuing the persecution of its opponents.
On the 15th, the EU Foreign Ministers’ meeting decided to impose sanctions on Turkey following its drilling activities in Cypriot territorial waters (those of the Turkish Republic of Cyprus, recognised only by Turkey). At Turkey’s request, the EU delayed the announcement of this decision by several hours to avoid a collision with the commemoration of the July 2016 coup attempt. On the 24th, in accordance with these sanctions, the European Investment Bank (EIB), Turkey’s main foreign creditor, decided to suspend loans to the Turkish government. These sanctions remain symbolic, and Ankara soon made a mockery of them.
Concerned by the repression of Human rights defenders in Turkey, three NGOs have created the website Keep the Volume up for Rights Defenders in Turkey. This website, whose address is https://www.sessizkalma.org/en/, contains under the item "News" up-to-date information on ongoing trials. It should be recalled that an organization like İHD, founded in July 1987, has seen 15 of its directors and members murdered in 33 years. The first, Vedat Aydın was murdered in 1991 while he was provincial president of the HEP at Diyarbakır, and the last, Tahir Elçi, president of Diyarbakır, was shot dead in the street in 2015... His murderers are still at large.