The regime’s blackout on the November demonstrations makes it difficult to determine the number of victims accurately. But as the Iranians manage to get information out of the country, the toll is getting clearer and the horror is increasing. According to government sources themselves, 120.000 to 200.000 demonstrators took part in the five days of protests. On 3 December, Amnesty International gave a minimum figure of 208 dead, already up from previous estimates of 106, 143 and 161. The Kalemeh site, close to the opposition “green movement”, estimated that there were at least 366 deaths. On the 5th, the US State Department’s special envoy for Syria, Brian Hook, said the number of casualties could exceed 1.000, pointing to a video showing more than 100 demonstrators shot in one place. Then on the 23rd, Reuters announced that it had received information from sources close to the Supreme Leader that Ali Khamenei had personally ordered the crackdown: “The Islamic Republic is in danger. Do whatever it takes to stop [the protests]. You have my order”, he was quoted as saying. Based on counts by security forces, morgues, hospitals and forensic doctors, these sources put the death toll at 1.500, including 400 women and 17 teenagers, a frightening figure far higher than any previous estimate. The regime described the news as “fake news” without offering its own count. On 3 March, state television acknowledged that security forces had opened fire on “rioters” in at least 10 cities across the country, including Mahshahr in the oil and Arabic-speaking province of Khuzistan (Radio Farda).
Neither was there any official figure for people wounded. The Kurdistan Human Rights Association (KMMK) estimated them at over 4.000. As for the number of arrests, on the 5th, Brian Hook estimated it at 7.000 at least. For Tehran province alone, its governor general on the 5th put the figure at 2021. After the bloody suppression of the protests, the forces of repression imprisoned in a series of raids many people who had participated, including hundreds of Kurds. Radio Farda has compiled the following figures for the Kurdish provinces of the country: in Kermanshah 1.370 arrests, 1,230 during the protests, reported by the NGO Hengaw, and 140 afterwards, according to the Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards). In the province of Kurdistan, more than 500 arrests (local NGO sources) and for the provinces of West-Azerbaijan, Mazandaran, Kerman, and Bushehr, 100 arrests minimum each (social network sources and official statements). In Lorestan, the police chief mentioned 300 arrests, most of them in Khorramabad, the capital. But estimates rose steadily during the month, with arrests continuing on a daily basis. For example, on the 4th, the Kurdish writer and activist Mozhgan Kawasi was arrested in Kelardasht (Mazanderan) for “supporting protests”. In Bokan, Etelaat (Intelligence) arrested the Kurdish activist Azad Mahmoudian. Some local news agencies have published details of the arrests in cities such as Marivan and Javanrud where a dozen demonstrators were killed by security forces. Fereshta Chraghy, a Kurdish journalist and member of the Yarsan Kurdish religious minority, was arrested in Sarpol-e Zahab while dozens of activists and demonstrators were detained in Kermanshah, Marivan, Sanandaj, Saqqez, Salas-e Bawajani and Javanrud (WKI). On Monday 9th in Marivan, Etelaat arrested the Kurdish activist Arman Shakiri, injured during the demonstrations (KMMK). In Sanandaj, Etelaat arrested and held incommunicado the Kurdish activist Akbar Kawyli. In Kermanshah, two Yarsan Kurdish activists were arrested, one of whom was seriously injured during the operation. Finally, in Oshnavieh (Shno), the Kurdish political activist Rashid Naserzade, previously imprisoned for his opposition to the death penalty, was arrested again (WKI).
According to information gathered by Amnesty International, the forces of repression have also threatened the families of the victims, forbidding them to talk to the media or to hold funeral ceremonies for their relatives. Some have been beaten, others imprisoned for attempting to visit the grave of a relative killed during the protests. The family of young Pouya Bakhtiari, killed in Karaj, refused to obey these orders. His father gave an interview to Radio Farda, not hesitating to post on his Instagram page a photo of Prince Reza Pahlavi, who had sent him his condolences. On the evening of the 23rd, several family members were arrested, including the young man’s parents and grandparents.
Families of victims have had to pay to recover the remains of their loved ones, such as that of singer Mustafa Frazmi in Kermanshah. The families of those arrested have also sometimes been subjected to blackmail, such as that of student Soha Motezaei, secretary of the Central Student Council of Tehran University, who was arrested during the protests, summoned and threatened, initially by the university authorities, then by a security agency. Already arrested and sentenced to six years in prison in 2018, the young master’s student, although ranked 10th in the national doctoral entrance examination, was banned in September 2019 by Tehran University Security from registering for Ph.D. After starting a protest sit-in on campus, she was arrested again on 17 November in the university dormitory. The university threatened her family with an additional prison sentence or transfer to a psychiatric institution, where she would be subjected to electric shocks.
In Sanandaj, Kurdish activist Fatima Darwand, arrested on 17 November, was charged on the 16th of December with inciting violence after she spoke at rallies, chanting, among other things, “The government is starving the nation”. She was due to be released on bail, but the court revoked this possibility when the family applied for a reduction in the amount. Her family cannot afford a lawyer (Rûdaw). The Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) reported on 18 other arrests: in Javanrud, two activists, Kawa Salih and Hamza Azizi, arrested and held incommunicado; in Dehgolan, environmental activist Sabir Qadiri. In Bokan, activist Simko Maroofi was sentenced to two years in prison for “undermining national security” for organising a demonstration of solidarity against the Turkish invasion of the Rojava. In Kermanshah, 250 people were arrested (the police chief called them “ringleaders”). Also on the 18th, according to the Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN), activists Fuad Mozaffari and Farzad Sofrah were arrested at their homes. Tension remains high in Kermanshah, where during the November demonstrations more than twenty people were shot dead, and many injured people arrested in hospital. Several journalists have also been arrested, such as the editor of the political monthly Zhilwan, published in Kurdish and Persian in Tehran, Humayoon Abbasi (Rûdaw).
The repressive bodies have also carried out numerous “preventive arrests”, which speaks volumes about the regime’s fear. The regime is trying to use minorities as scapegoats, accusing them of being responsible for attempts to destabilise the country. Repression has been particularly violent in areas inhabited by ethno-religious minorities, Kurds, Khuzistan Arabs, Azeris and Baluchis (UNPO). The Kurds, in particular, have been publicly indicted as agents working for the USA and Israel. They have long been particularly targeted by repression: although being less than 10% of the population, they provide almost half of the political prisoners.
What happened in Kurdistan in November? Testimonies began to appear on the internet at the beginning of December. In Marivan, the protests began peacefully with a blockade of the streets with cars carrying messages denouncing the rise in fuel prices. In the afternoon, security forces began removing license plates or breaking car windscreens, threatening or attacking residents. But the population counter-attacked, forcing the attackers to seek refuge in a building, which provocateurs unsuccessfully pushed the inhabitants to attack. As night fell, gunmen fired live ammunition at the demonstrators from the roof, killing two youths. These unexpected deaths sent the city into a state of shock, before provoking a general uprising and the occupation of the streets by crowds of young people and women. Demonstrations, accompanied by stone throwing at barracks, petrol stations and banks, lasted for a week... 60 km to the south, in Javanrud, a poor town subsisting thanks to kolbars (cross-border porters), the announcement of the tripling of the price of petrol made the inhabitants take to the streets. The security forces quickly dispersed them (the town is home to a military base). Members of the intelligence (Etelaat) in civilian clothes also mingled with the crowd. Snipers fired to kill, but some residents were also victims of stray bullets. In some hospitals, families had to pay up to 70 million tomans (about € 15.000) to recover the bodies of their relatives. They had to be buried silently and the funeral ceremony held at home. Since the events, according to local sources, repressive forces have been launching incessant raids on the houses of residents suspected of taking part in the demonstrations from 5 to 6 a.m. in the morning (Rûdaw).
Information about the crackdown caused international reactions. On 6 December, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michèle Bachelet, expressed concern about “serious human rights violations” and called for “those responsible to be held accountable”. Confirming the arrest of “at least 7.000 people”, her statement expressed her “extreme concern” about the “physical treatment of detainees, violations of their right to a fair trial”, and testimonies of “forced confessions”. On the 8th, the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, called on the Iranian authorities to “investigate and prosecute those responsible for the deaths and guarantee all detainees a fair trial” (Bianet) (https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2019/12/08/declaration-by-the-high-representative-on-behalf-of-the-eu-on-the-recent-protests-in-iran/). In a petition published on the 9th, Amnesty International and several other NGOs urged UN member states to condemn the “serious human rights violations” committed by the Iranian authorities. On the 12th, Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi said from Brussels that “separatism is a label that the Islamic Republic uses to oppress ethnic groups”. Criticising European countries for maintaining contacts with Iran despite the fierce repression taking place there, Ebadi urged them to make business with the country dependant on “stopping the repression and releasing political prisoners, who are only asking for bread and work” (Rûdaw). On the 16th, a coalition of 23 human rights NGOs, including the CHRI, called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to launch an independent inquiry, while Amnesty International accused the regime in its report on the repression of having hidden the bodies of victims to conceal the real number of deaths. For example, on the 17th, the body of a missing demonstrator was found near Marivan, that of another in the suburbs of Javanrud. According to KMMK, the two disappeared persons had probably been abducted and murdered after the demonstrations; their bodies showed signs of torture.
On the 18th, the United Nations General Assembly passed by 80 votes to 30 with 70 abstentions a resolution submitted by Canada calling on Iran to end its human rights violations, including the release of those arrested solely for participating in peaceful demonstrations. Iranian Foreign Minister Abbas Mousavi called the resolution “biased”. On the 20th, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced sanctions against two Iranian judges, Mohammad Moghiseh and Abolghassem Salavati, both heads of “Revolutionary Courts”, already sanctioned in 2009 by the EU after the repression of the “green movement” opposing the fraudulent re-election of Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Mohammad Moghiseh is also infamous for his role in the torture and execution of many political prisoners in the 1980s. Finally, on the 27th, at the “G7” summit on gender equality held at the Elysée Palace in Paris, a chair was symbolically left empty for imprisoned Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was invited by the French president but unable to travel to France.
Within the country, too, the violence of repression has provoked reactions. On 1st December, human rights defender Nargis Mohammadi, from her cell in Evin prison, where she has been imprisoned since 2015 for 16 years, courageously circulated an open letter in which she wrote that “the state can offer no justification” for such violence: “There can be only one demand, and that is the punishment of those responsible for the massacre of defenceless people” (full text of her letter on https://iranhumanrights.org/2019/12/rights-activist-narges-mohammadi-speaks-out-from-prison-on-irans-brutality-against-protestors/). Several members of parliament have taken the floor to protest or seek clarification on the number of deaths. On the 2nd, Tehran MP Mahmoud Sadeqi warned the authorities in a tweet that if no official death toll was published, parliament would have to produce its own by calling on citizens to testify. Another deputy, Mrs. Paravaneh Salahshouri, called for a parliamentary inquiry commission, then took the floor again on the 9th to describe the Islamic Republic as a “dark despotism” and denounce the concentration of power in non-elected structures controlled by the Supreme Leader, who then “escape all responsibility for their actions”. The following day, MP Ali Motahari made similar criticisms, calling in particular for the dissolution of the “Economic Coordination Council”, composed of the President, the President of the Supreme Court and the Speaker of Parliament – precisely the body which had decided on the tripling of petrol prices. On the same day, the government promised to publish a report on the demonstrations, including the number of people killed. Similar promises, made after the student demonstrations in 1989, the post-election protests in 2009, the murders of intellectuals in 1998, and more recently in 2017 and 2018, have never been kept... (Radio Farda)
On the 9th, 160 lawyers wrote to President Rouhani denouncing the characterisation of “legitimate protests” as “plots from abroad” and calling for a thorough investigation into the repression and punishment of those responsible.
Parallel to the repression of participants in the November protests, arrests, convictions and even executions not directly related to the protests continued. For example, on 4 December, Section 28 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, presided over by Judge Moghiseh, sentenced Neda Naji, who had been arrested during the 1st May protests, to five years in prison for, among other things, “gathering and collusion”, “propaganda against the state” and “disturbing public order”. According to her husband, Naji, she was beaten twice in prison by another prisoner and a prison official and had to be transferred to the infirmary (HRANA). On the 6th, social networks in Kurdistan reported the execution of singer Mohsen Lorestani, sentenced for “spreading corruption on earth” (fasad fil arz) by a court presided over by Judge Moghiseh. The reason for this conviction is not clear, it could be linked to the creation by the singer of an Instagram group with transsexual people.
A rare piece of good news concerns Zahra Mohammadi, the director of the Nojin Cultural Association for the teaching of Kurdish. Arrested in Sanandaj last May, Mohammadi was, according to Hengaw, released on bail on 2 December. But she is not finished with justice, as she has yet to go to trial (Rûdaw). According to Amnesty International, she reported confessing under duress while in solitary confinement (https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde13/1390/2019/en/).
On Christmas Eve, two foreign academics detained in Evin prison on charges of espionage, Franco-Iranian Fariba Adelkhah and Australian Kylie Moore-Gilbert, announced in an open letter to the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) that they had managed to get out of the prison, that they were beginning a complete fast to protest their detention. At least eleven other foreign nationals are imprisoned like them.
On the 25th, five prisoners were sentenced in Tehran by a court presided over by Judge Salavati to publicly receive 74 lashes each. This punishment is common in Iran: the day before, a young man had been sentenced to be whipped for extramarital relations (HRANA). Finally, on the 27th in Shiraz, a Muslim municipal councillor was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for asking for the release of two Baha’i, and another councillor was suspended for 10 months for defending his colleague (CHRI).
At the borders, the security forces continue to assassinate the Kurdish porters known as kolbars. The Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) has drawn a grim picture of those porters’ situation: earlier this month a kolbar was shot near Saqqez and another was wounded in Sardahst when the group to which he belonged was targeted. Another died of a heart attack near Marivan. The following week, another was shot near that town, then another 16-year-old near Sardasht and another in Baneh. Finally, a kolbar was wounded near Pawa by a mine placed by border guards. On the 21st, Rudaw counted on the Hawraman five kolbars frozen to death and more than ten missing in a snowstorm on the border with Iraq. On the 28th, the brother of a kolbar who died in hospital said in an interview given through his tears: “When hospitals know that the injured person is a kolbar, they don’t take very good care of him, because they think he is a smuggler... My brother and thousands of others like him do this risky work to earn a living, to get a piece of bread, because of the lack of jobs in Kurdistan. It is poverty that forces them to offer their chests to the bullets of the border guards...”.
Since the withdrawal without notice of the Americans (and then partly cancelled), Moscow appears more than ever as the master of the game in Syria. In the north-east of the country, the Russians have guaranteed the withdrawal of Kurdish militias, and Turkey has had to rely on them. Joint Russian-Turkish patrols continue, and three Russian officers were even slightly injured by an explosive device near Kobane: from the very beginning of these patrols, the Syrian Kurds have expressed their rejection of the Turkish military presence, and at least two civilians have been killed in clashes, either by Turkish fire or run over by their vehicles...
The Commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Mazloum Kobani, announced on 2 February that they had reached an agreement with the Russian forces. The latter will deploy in Amuda, Tall Tamr and Ayn Issa (Ahval), which will effectively prevent Turkish action against these cities. There are regular clashes between the SDF and the Turkish military or their auxiliaries, for example a Turkish soldier was killed on the 2nd by mortar fire... (AFP) The complexity of the situation is well illustrated by the fact that the anti-ISIS coalition and the SDF have returned to Hassakeh, Qamishli, Derik and Deir Ezzor to continue the fight against the dormant jihadist cells (Ahval). In Amuda, the Russian deployment was reported on the 4th (Asharq Al-Awsat). On the 7th, Rudaw reported that discussions between SDF and Russian forces had continued and that in a second phase provided for the deployment of Syrian border guards along the border between Kobanê and Semelka, facing Iraq, notably in the cities of Manbij, Derbasiya, Amuda, Qamishli and Derik. The Syrian military will be stationed in the bases evacuated by the Americans. The regime is thus gradually reappearing in Rojava... On the 10th, Russian President special envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev, said that Russia opposed the expansion of Turkey’s “security zone” in northern Syria: Turkey must remain within the limits of the area “clearly defined” by the agreement signed in October with Russia, and must not extend it beyond, he said (Ahval, TASS).
Russia also acted as an intermediary for discussions between the PYD-dominated Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) and the Damascus regime. On the 12th, however, Mohammed Ismail, an official of the Kurdish National Council (ENKS), which brings together the opposition to AANES, said that ENKS was ready to enter into discussions with Damascus as well... if Russia played the role of guarantor. Indeed, the ENKS has little confidence in the regime, with which no discussions have taken place so far, as the ENKS belongs to the opposition coalition supported by Turkey. On the other hand, a three-member ENKS delegation recently held several meetings in Moscow with Mikhail Bogdanov, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and special envoy of President Putin to the Middle East. Bogdanov told the delegation that it had to clarify its demands and to unite with the other Kurdish forces. ENKS is also present at the “Syrian Constitutional Committee” from which AANES is excluded following Turkey’s opposition. Bringing together the United Nations, the regime and the opposition, this Committee is tasked with drawing up a draft of a new constitution for Syria, but it is progressing very slowly (Rûdaw). AANES rejected the Committee’s discussions, expressing its continued surprise at its exclusion, when jihadist groups such as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, ex-Al-Nosra and Al-Qaeda in the Levant (Al-Qa’ida fi Bilad al-Sham) participate in it.
On the 19th, VOA reported that Russia had begun the creation of a new military force in North-Eastern Syria to be deployed on the border. Two recruitment centres have been opened in Amuda and Tell Tamr. A commander of the SDF stated that the SDF was “involved in the process of recruiting and vetting new fighters”. On the political front, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said on Russia Today on the 25th that talks with AANES were “terminated [...] because of the fluctuations in relations between the United States and the Kurds” (Ahval).
Comforted by what it sees as its gradual regaining of control of the country’s North-East, the regime, supported by its Russian allies, launched a violent offensive on the province of Idleb. At the beginning of the month, fighting there became increasingly violent. Dominated by the jihadists of Hayat Tahrir al-Cham, the former Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, the province has become a terrible tangle where Islamists and jihadists have gradually flocked, gradually driven out of the rest of Syria, but also millions of displaced persons, a real concern for neighbouring Turkey. On 2 December, bombings killed nearly 20 people in Syria, 13 of them in strikes by the regime on a market in the province. This dramatic development reflects the failure of Turkey’s Syrian policy. In particular, the Turkish President, with his Kurdish obsession, has not been able to fulfil his commitments to Russia: to disarm his rebel “clients”. Turkish troops find themselves in a very tight position on the ground, to the point of sometimes being surrounded in their observation posts, set up after a cease-fire agreement with Moscow, but dependent on disarmament... At the end of the month, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar publicly took a martial posture, declaring that Turkey would not evacuate any of its posts, but Turkish diplomacy had to resort to underhandedly begging for an honorable exit to Moscow, asking for intervention to lower the intensity of the Damascus offensive.
Furthermore, Turkey, after its solitary invasion of the Rojava and the purchase of a Russian air defence system, cannot expect any automatic assistance from its NATO allies, with whom the relations have become strained. Attempts by the Turkish president to blackmail the Alliance by threatening to block several NATO decisions to strengthen the defences of the Baltic States and Poland against Russia, in order to force the Alliance to adopt a text describing the YPG as a terrorist threat, have not succeeded. The French President, in particular, was extremely critical of Turkey’s attitude, saying before the Alliance summit: “I am sorry to say that we do not have the same definition of terrorism around the table”, and “When I look at Turkey, they are fighting those who have fought shoulder to shoulder with us against the Islamic State and sometimes they work with its proxies”. Mr. Erdoğan finally gave up his pressure.
In terms of intra-Kurdish relations, some attempts at improvement are to be noted, no doubt spurred on by the Turkish invasion of last October. On the 17th, AANES announced that it would allow the ENKS to open offices in the region it administers without requesting prior authorisation, and that it would waive all legal proceedings against its members. On the 21st, the Kurdish security forces (Asayish) announced the release of a recently imprisoned ENKS member, Suud Mizar Issa. He had been accused of “collusion with outside parties” endangering the Rojava, which the ENKS had denied, accusing the administration of imprisoning him because of his political activities. The Autonomous Administration also set up a Commission of Inquiry into the political imprisonments denounced by ENKS. Not recognizing AANES, the ENKS has so far refused to follow the procedures imposed for opening political offices, which led in 2016 to a wave of repression in which the authorities closed some 40 of its offices and imprisoned hundreds of its members, who were later released. AANES declared that there were no more ENKS political prisoners in Rojava, but the ENKS responded by publishing a list of ten of its members it claimed were still detained.
Fesla Yousef, a member of the ENKS board, welcomed the AANES decision, while calling for its immediate implementation. However, on the 27th, after a meeting in Qamishli, ENKS decided to refuse to reopen its offices in Rojava. Bashar Amin, member of the ENKS General secretariat, said in Rûdaw that the main problem is the lack of trust in the administration: “For us, the most important thing is to create trust between us. Moreover, we give priority to the issue of detainees [over the reopening of the offices]”.
Besides, the Turkish attacks, although they have prompted these recent attempts to restore unity, have also provoked a crisis of confidence in the other direction: several ENKS leaders have been banned from staying in Rojava because of their links with Turkey through their membership of the Ankara-backed coalition of the opposition to the regime, which led to the accusation of them being accomplices in the Turkish invasion of Afrin.
Concerning ISIS, because of the insecurity and the difficulty in controlling the Al-Hol camp, where several assassinations attributed to the jihadists occurred this month, and also to avoid the risk of a break with their Arab allies, the SDF agreed at the beginning of the month to the release of some 300 Syrians, and then on the 8th of 200 more. Most of them are women and children, including relatives of jihadists belonging to certain tribes who at one time chose the side of the jihadist organisation. The aim is to gradually release and reintegrate into society the 28.000 Syrians imprisoned (UN figure), while the AANES is still asking foreign countries, especially Western countries, to take back their 12.000 nationals – without much success so far.
On 2 December, in Tal Rifaat (Aleppo province), a town under Kurdish control, where Russian and Syrian troops are also present, at least 11 civilians, including eight children, were killed by Turkish artillery fire as they were leaving school, according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which also counted 21 injured. Most of the victims were Kurds already displaced by the Turkish invasion of Afrin (AFP).
This month, a number of recently published data allow us to attempt a short synthesis concerning Turkish exactions in Rojava. Regarding last October invasion, the Rojava Information Center published on December 1st a report entitled Turkey’s war against civilians (https://rojavainformationcenter.com/2019/12/report-turkeys-war-against-civilians-1/, download link at page bottom), which provides numerous testimonies as well as a database with supporting evidence for all the rights violations suffered by the civilian population (https://rojavainformationcenter.com/2019/12/database-documenting-war-crimes/).
Over the past four years, Turkey has conducted three military operations in Rojava: Euphrates Shield in August 2016 in the Jerablous-Al-Bab region, Olive Branch against Afrin area in February-March 2018, and finally Source of Peace in October 2019, in the border area stretching from Kobane to the Iraqi border. These are invasions (to date no withdrawals have taken place) in which the same elements are found to varying degrees: the use on the ground, in addition to the regular army, of Syrian Jihadist auxiliaries who commit acts of violence against the civilian population; Turkish air strikes against these same civilians during and after the invasion, and sometimes the use of prohibited weapons against civilians, such as phosphorus. All these elements constitute war crimes, or even potential crimes against humanity, especially as their repetition in each operation shows that these are not “blunders” resulting from Turkey’s lack of control over its auxiliaries, but from a deliberate, anti-Kurdish (and not anti-terrorist) policy aimed at creating terror in order to change the demographic composition of the territories: in short, these are ethnic cleansing operations aimed at destroying Syrian Kurdistan.
As early as November 17, Sheri Laizer recalled in eKurd the chilling testimony of a farmer from Afrin, collected after Operation Olive Branch: “The Turkish-sponsored jihadists kidnapped me from my home – I am not a PYD member, just an olive farmer. They detained and tortured me for three weeks, burned me, threatened to kill me, beat me until my bones were broken and starved me. Then they demanded a ransom, occupied my land and evicted me and my family to a remote village so that they could take our house and olive groves. After my family paid them for my release, I was so weak that I could barely stand. I was skin and bones. [They] threatened to take me back and kill my wife and children if I told anything”.
Released on 18 October, Amnesty International’s report on Operation Source of Peace, speaking of the invaders’ “shameful disregard for civilian lives”, also attests to “overwhelming evidence of war crimes and other violations committed by Turkish forces and their allies”. Recent testimonies echo the one reproduced above, such as the one, dated 5 December, of this 65-year-old displaced mother from Ras al-Ain / Serê Kaniyê, who received on her mobile phone the message “Come and fetch your son”, accompanied by a picture of a bloody corpse. The whole family had taken refuge in Qamishli at the time of the invasion, but the son had to return to collect administrative papers. He was killed along with four other people who came with him to ask about the fate of their house (AFP).
On 29 November, The Independent mentioned “videos posted online by soldiers of the Turkish-supported ‘Syrian National Army’ – showing summary executions, mutilation of corpses, threats against Kurds and widespread looting”, and recalled an earlier clip showing jihadists parading a Kurdish prisoner and threatening to kill “pigs” and “infidels”... These numerous videos have achieved their goal: to spread terror, especially among Kurds and non-Sunni minorities, to provoke a mass exodus. A Yazidi woman displaced from Ras al-Ain with her whole family testified: “When we saw the murder of [...] Havrin Khalaf, we saw that they were doing the same thing as ISIS”. The family resettled in a hastily built camp near Tell Tamr. This is a repeat of what happened in Afrin, from where more than 130.000 residents, mostly Kurds, are still displaced in camps, their homes now occupied by Syrians from other regions. According to figures compiled by the SOHR on 2 December, the Turkish invasion in October caused the death of 150 civilians and displaced more than 300.000 people. The following week, the figures were 490 dead and 1.070 wounded. In addition, more than 18.000 refugees had to resettle in Iraqi Kurdistan.
If Erdoğan was able to repeat the invasion of Afrin, it’s because it had provoked only a few shocked admonitions from its Western allies. He can therefore now extend his anti-Kurdish ethnic cleansing to the newly conquered territories, as he suggested in an interview with TRT on 24 October, where he described the area designated for his “security zone” as “unsuitable for the Kurds”: “The most suitable people for this area are the Arabs. These areas are not suitable for the Kurdish way of life”, before explaining: “Because they are desert areas”... On 9 December, Foreign Policy reported that Turkey had started sending Syrian refugees back to North-Eastern Syria. According to the American magazine, local media reports and information from the Rojava Information Center show that most of them are families of Arab and Turkmen fighters supported by Turkey, coming from other parts of Syria... On December 16, Mazloum Abdi, General Commander of the SDF, called in Foreign Policy on the US President to ensure full compliance with the US-Turkish agreement negotiated in Ankara on the 17 October, including the condition that both sides protect religious and ethnic minorities within the Turkish-controlled “security zone”. In particular, Abdi called on Trump and the United Nations to send international observers to the zone to monitor the situation of the Kurds. He also called on Russia, which has signed another agreement with Turkey, to play its role as guarantor of compliance with this agreement, which provides for the cessation of operations. Indeed, the invaders have continued ground attacks and air strikes on the civilian population, including extensive use of armed drones, followed by numerous attacks using IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). On the 6th, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed her concern in this regard (https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25395angID=E): “We are concerned about two worrying developments and their direct impact on civilians. Firstly, we are seeing a spike in what appears to be the indiscriminate use of IED attacks in residential areas and local markets. These attacks have been carried out mainly in areas under the control of Turkish forces and affiliated armed groups and, to a lesser extent, in areas under the control of Kurdish armed groups in Northern and North-Eastern Syria. We are gravely concerned about the increased use of improvised explosive devices in populated areas.... Such use may constitute an indiscriminate attack, a serious violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime”.
In order to achieve its objectives of destroying Rojava, Turkey has remained faithful since 2014 to its policy of collaborating with the members of ISIS and providing covert support to the terrorist organization. Isn’t it remarkable that, when American and Kurdish forces tracked down and killed Al-Baghdadi on the night of 26-27 October, it was without Turkish help, while the jihadist leader was in Idlib, thus in an enclave protected by Turkey? The next day, ISIS’s spokesman Abu al-Hassan Al-Muhajir was killed in Ain al-Baydah near Jerablous, a city under Turkish control since the operation Euphrates Shield. Al-Monitor also recalled on 9 December that in November 2015, when Turkey had just shot down a Russian Mig, Russia had released satellite images which it claimed proved that Turkey was buying oil from ISIS. Shortly afterwards, Russian Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov accused the Turkish President of being personally involved “in this criminal business”. Erdoğan published a furious denial, and after the Turkish-Russian reconciliation, the whole affair was conveniently buried... However, the team that prepared the Rojava Information Center’s report on Turkish abuses is still working on verifying information about 70 people, whose names were provided by local media, who may have belonged to ISIS and have returned once the Turkish “security zone” was established (Foreign Policy).
On the 18th, Mazloum Abdi accused Turkey on Sky News of recruiting ISIS fighters to participate in the invasion of Rojava (NRT). In an article published the next day by the Washington Examiner, former Pentagon official Michael Rubin noted that Turkey’s Syrian auxiliaries, some of whose militiamen had previously worked for al-Qaida and ISIS, imposed, from Afrin to the latest invasion, a social order quite close to that previously imposed by that organization. Worse, Rubin quotes testimonies from Yazidis that not only does the regime of Erdoğan favour Sunni Arab refugees on its territory, refusing aid and assistance to Yazidis, but also leaves Yazidi captive women in the hands of their persecutors in the territories it controls in Syria, and in some cases in Turkey itself, without intervening. Rubin writes: “The fact that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey has become an Islamic state is self-evident”, and appeals to US politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike: “Erdogan and the forces under his control must immediately release all Yazidi girls and women remaining in slavery or married against their will in Turkey or Turkish-held territories”.
Turkey’s policy in the territories it occupies hints at a long-term presence. Since the beginning of the month, the Turkish occupation forces have installed new mayors in the towns they have taken in north-eastern Syria, Serê Kaniyê and Girê Spî. The governor of the bordering Turkish province of Şanlıurfa, Abdullah Erin, came on the 5th to supervise the new administration. Several sources in Syria said that Kurds were excluded from positions of responsibility, the Kurdish language had been removed from school curricula and indications in Kurdish had been removed from local institutions... (Rûdaw). Erin said that Turkey had appointed governors for the two cities, and planned to create a police force of 3.500 to 4.000 men for the area, which would be recruited in two stages from among the Syrians, with a first group of 1.800 expected to begin training within a week. This is the same policy that has already been implemented in Jerablous and Al-Bab, and then in Afrin, after their invasion. Thus the Turkish Post has been present in Jerablous since 2017, and the University of Gaziantep has established faculties in the province... This amounts to annexation by stealth of the conquered territories, where Turkey applies its own law: since the beginning of the invasion, 104 Kurds from Syria have been arrested and transferred to Turkey by the MIT (secret service) for prosecution. The prosecutor of Şanlıurfa reported that 99 of them were charged with “endangering the unity and integrity of the State” and “membership of an armed terrorist organization” (WKI). On the 14th, three of them were sentenced to life imprisonment on the first charge, and four others received 12 years on the second (Turkey Purge).
On 2 December, it was learned that, after fainting on 26 November in his cell, where he was found unconscious, the imprisoned former leader of the HDP (People’s Democratic Party) Selahattin Demirtaş had been transferred to hospital for tests (AFP). According to the sister and lawyer of the detainee, Aygül Demirtaş, despite his “breathing difficulties and chest pain”, the prison administration had initially refused his transfer. Demirtaş has been detained since November 2016 on fabricated charges of “terrorist propaganda”. Brought back afterwards to his cell, he was able on the 9th to give an interview to the daily Evrensel, in which he notably accused the Turkish judicial institution of being at the service of the war of annihilation waged by the fascist block AKP-MHP against the Kurds and all dissidents. As for another interview given on the 13th to the newspaper Bir Gün, the prison administration refused to give him the newspaper issue containing his own interview: this would have “fuelled opposition to the state” (Bianet).
Besides, HDP elected officials and members continue to suffer ruthless repression. By the end of November, police had detained nearly 100 HDP members and Kurdish journalists in Ankara, Gaziantep, Urfa, Diyarbakir, Ağrı, Adiyaman and Batman, then in Muş and Van. At dawn on 6 December, HDP co-mayors from several districts of Van province, Muradiye (Yılmaz Şalan and Leyla Balkan), Özalp (Yakup Almaç and Dilan Örenci), and Başkale (Erkan Acar and Şengül Polat) were imprisoned following investigations launched against them. The police prevented any access to or exit from municipal buildings. At Diyarbakır, HDP City Councillor from Bağlar, Naşide Buluttekin Can, was also detained. Dismissed on 22 October with the other five HDP councillors, she had been replaced by a government-appointed administrator (kayyım). Police also arrested Osman Karabulut, co-Mayor of Ikikopru (Batman). On the 7th, three other co-mayors were replaced by government-appointed administrators. In Kocaeli province, 14 of the 22 HDP members previously arrested on 26 November were imprisoned, while eight others were released on bail. In Antalya, 29 people, mostly HDP members, were arrested in house raids. In Muş, authorities detained two provincial council members, Mehmet Demir and Mehmet Tuğrul (WKI). On the 9th, the elected officials incarcerated on the 6th were charged with “membership in” and “propaganda for” a terrorist organization and arrested, except for Leila Balkan and the co-mayors of Başkale, who were released on parole (Bianet).
On 10 December, 27 of the defendants in the so-called KCK (Union of Kurdistan Communities) trial, in which 96 people have been prosecuted since 2008, were sentenced in Adana to six years and three months in prison each for “membership of a terrorist organization”. Among them, the co-president of the DTK (Congress for a Democratic Society) Leyla Güven. At the end of 2018, she had initiated a hunger strike in prisons to protest against the isolation of the imprisoned PKK leader and the conditions of detention of Kurdish political prisoners. The lawyers of the persons concerned announced that they would appeal. On the same day, on the occasion of Human Rights Week, the HDP published a report on the violations suffered during the year 2019: 1.674 of its members were imprisoned and 200 arrested. Since 2015, 6.000 HDP members have been arrested. For the March 31 municipal elections, 750 members were incarcerated and 107 arrested, including nine mayoral candidates, nine municipal council candidates, six provincial co-presidents, and about ten district or provincial co-presidents....
On the 11th, police arrested many people in raids in Lice (Diyarbakir) and several districts of Mardin, including the local HDP leader. On the 12th, Nilüfer Elik Yılmaz, the district co-mayor of Kızıltepe (Mardin), was incarcerated, while Mehmet Fatih Taş and Fatma Ay, the co-mayors of Kulp (Diyarbakir) who had been incarcerated since 17 September after an IED exploded in Ağaçkorur, killed seven people and injured 13. After the attack, the pro-AKP newspaper Yeni Safak accused the HDP. On the 16th, Nilüfer Elik Yılmaz was indicted for her activities within the DTK (Congress for a Democratic Society) on the basis of anonymous testimonies, and replaced by an administrator.
On the 13th, the Supreme Election Commission (YSK, Yüksek Seçim Kurulu) revoked the electoral certificate of the AKP Mayor of Ceylanpınar district, Abdullah Aksak, due to a previous conviction. But unlike the HDP elected officials, all without exception replaced by administrators, the new mayor will be elected by the members of the municipal council... (Bianet)
On the morning of the 17th, the HDP co-mayors of the districts of Bulanık, Eylem Saruca and Adnan Topçu, and of Varto, Ülkü Karaaslan and Mahmut Yalçın (province of Muş), were incarcerated following house raids, as was a municipal councillor of Varto, Mahmut Yalçın. Police searched municipal buildings. On the same day, eight members of the HDP and local associations were arrested in Adana and Malatya (WKI), and the mayor of Urla, İbrahim Burak Oğuz (CHP), was arrested on charges of “belonging to the armed terrorist organisation FETÖ” (the name given by the AKP to the Gülenist network). On the 18th, the Ministry of Interior appointed administrators for the HDP municipalities of Bulanık, Varto and Erentepe (Muş), as well as for the municipality of Urla (Izmir). At that date, Bianet counted 32 mayors replaced by administrators since the municipal elections of 31 March 2019, 31 of which were from the HDP. The cities concerned are: Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality (Adnan Selçuk Mızraklı), Mardin (Ahmet Türk) and Van (Bedia Özgökçe Ertan), Hakkari Municipality (Cihan Karaman), Yüksekova (Remziye Yaşar), Nusaybin (Semire Nergiz), Kulp (Mehmet Fatih Taş), Kayapınar (Keziban Yılmaz), Bismil (Gülcan Özer), Kocaköy (Rojda Nazlıer), Erciş (Yıldız Çetin), Karayazı (Melike Göksu), Cizre (Mehmet Zırığ), Saray (Caziye Duman), Kızıltepe (Nilüfer Elik Yılmaz), Yenişehir (Belgin Diken), Hazro (Ahmet Çevik), İdil (Songül Erden), Akpazar (Orhan Çelebi), İpekyolu (Azim Yacan), Savur (Gülistan Öncü), Mazıdağı (Nalan Özaydın), Derik (Mülkiye Esmez), Suruç (Hatice Çevik), Bulanık (Adnan Topçu), Varto (Ülkü Karaaslan Baytaş), Erentepe (Dilaver Kesik), Urla (İbrahim Burak Oğuz, CHP).
On the 20th, the HDP Co-Mayor of Sur District (old town of Diyarbakır), Filiz Buluttekin, and two municipal councillors were arrested during police raids on their homes. At Filiz Buluttekin’s home, according to her lawyer, police officers put her, her husband and her 10-year-old child to the ground and pointed guns at their heads: “Police violence and illegality have become routine now”, he commented (Bianet). The two co-mayors were charged on the 24th with “membership in a terrorist organisation”. On the 23rd, three municipal councillors from Bağlar (Diyarbakir district), Zeki Kanay, Ramazan Özçelik and Nursel Örnek, were dismissed following an investigation for “terrorism”, without even being notified. Six other councillors from Bağlar had already been dismissed. In the March municipal elections, the HDP had won 30 of the 37 council seats. On the 25th, the court extended the detention of Diyarbakir’s Metropolitan Co-Mayor, Adnan Selçuk Mızraklı. Charged with “membership of a terrorist organization”, he faces 7 to 15 years in prison.
Information also continues to accumulate on the abuses suffered by detainees in Turkish prisons, to the point that at the end of the month, on the 25th, HDP co-president Sezai Temelli said that “torture in detention” had become “systematic”, adding that sick prisoners were in an “unbearable” situation. Several reports published at the beginning of the month indeed attest to an unacceptable situation. On the 2nd, the Initiative for Rights (Hak İnisiyatifi) reported that the number of children under seven years of age in detention had risen to 780 in November 2019 from 743 the previous year. 543 detained children are under four years old and 37 under six months... Other frightening figures, there are 35 pregnant women prisoners, 519 convicted mothers and 224 incarcerated. On the 5th, the State Statistical Institute TurkStat published its figures, this time for 2018 (http://bianet.org/english/human-rights/216719-prison-population-increases-by-14-percent-in-one-year-says-turkstat). They stand at 264.842 inmates, a constant increase since 2013, with an increase from 188 inmates per 100.000 inhabitants in that year to 401 per 100.000 in 2018 .
Beyond the figures, some cases show the abuses detainees may face. On the 2nd, Esin Kavruk was forcibly taken away for a DNA sample that she had refused. The police entered a section of the prison and beat the inmates there, dragging some of the women by the hair and confiscating their belongings. Two women had to be hospitalized. On the 6th, Istanbul Turan MP CHP Aydoğan noted: “According to the latest data shared by the Human Rights Association (İHD), there are 1.333 sick detainees, 457 of whom are in a serious condition. Officials of the association indicated that although the state of emergency has been lifted, its practices have become permanent in the prisons”. Recalling the European standards on imprisonment, he regretted that they are not respected in Turkey. On the 17th, when the Constitutional Court ruled (after four years of deliberation!) that the magazine Yürüyüş could be delivered to a prisoner in Van prison, the penitentiary administration refused to apply the decision. Some bans go as far as neurotic: still in Van, Mecit Şahinkaya was refused a female bird to keep company with its male: “They decided to allow only male birds in the same cage”, the prisoner told Bianet.
The issue of torture at the Ankara Security Directorate led to a skirmishing between HDP MP Kocaeli Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, who denounced it, and AKP Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, who said on the 23rd: “These allegations recently made by a MP infiltrated by FETÖ into the parliament are inconsistent, unfounded, misleading and defamatory”. Gergerlioğlu had indicated that it had testimonies from lawyers and families of 46 people tortured during their imprisonment in Ankara, including former officials of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice... Gergerlioğlu reacted the next day by twittering the minister: “Your slander cannot cover up torture”, adding that “someone who refuses a report by a bar will obviously resort to slander”.
Concerning the military situation, on the 18th, the Governor of Hakkari declared five areas of the province “security zones”, with access prohibited until the 22nd, including Hakkari, and the districts of Yüksekova, Şemdinli and Çukurca. At the same time, more than 40 villages around Bitlis remained under an indefinite curfew due to anti-PKK military operations (WKI). On the 27th, the governor of Hakkari extended the duration of the “security zones”, including Derecik, for 15 days, before banning all demonstrations in the province on the 30th for 15 days. On the 31st, the Governor of Gaziantep declared 48 sectors near the Syrian border (Bianet) as “security zones” for 15 days.
In neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan, the anti-PKK operation “Claws”, launched in May, continued with regular air strikes, such as the one that hit the village of Sidekan in Soran district on 13 May. These attacks have already displaced thousands of people.
In Turkey, beyond the HDP opposition party, the whole of civil society is under surveillance. The media are still particularly targeted by the authorities. Vice-President Fuat Oktay told a parliamentary committee on 2 December that 685 press cards had been withdrawn “for reasons of national security” and their appearance changed to “avoid forgeries” (Bianet). On 4 December, Mezopotamya Agency journalists Sadiye Eser and Sadık Topaloğlu were arrested in Istanbul on charges of “belonging to a terrorist organisation” supported by an anonymous witness. The court ordered their arrest. On 5 November, Hacı Yusuf Topaloğlu , a journalist with the Dicle (DIHA) agency (closed by emergency decree), who has been in prison since 27 November, was charged with “membership in a terrorist organisation” and arrested. On the 11th, DIHA journalist Aziz Oruç was imprisoned at Ağrı, then received the same charge on the 18th. The HDP co-heads of the district of Doğubayazıt, Abdullah Ekelek and Muhammet İkram Müftüoğlu, were arrested on the 13th for assisting him. Exiled in Iraq, Oruç had been beaten and sent back to Turkey by the Armenian border police during an attempted trip to Europe.
On the 18th, seven journalists accused of “targeting a public officer who served in the fight against terrorism” for reporting and sharing information about the deputy general commander of the gendarmerie Musa Çitil were acquitted by the court in Diyarbakır. Among them were DIHA news editor Ömer Çelik and three reporters, and the editor of the newspaper Özgür Gündem İnan Kızılkaya. Çitil had filed a complaint against them for an article reporting on the operation he led at Sur (Diyarbakır) when he was regional commander of the gendarmerie. Çitil himself had been the subject of a murder complaint against thirteen villagers in Derik between 1993 and 1994 (the indictment against him mentions that he had called them “terrorists” in his reports); Çitil was acquitted in May 2014. The families of the murdered villagers had appealed, but the Supreme Court upheld the acquittal...
The Turkish Journalists’ Union (TGS) denounced in a statement read outside the offices of the newspaper Cumhuriyet the recent incitement by an Akit-TV presenter on the 23rd: “Let’s go. Let’s get together and throw a hand grenade in front of Cumhuriyet”. The channel had already distinguished itself in 2018 when, after the attack on Afrin, presenter Ahmet Keser criticised the media reporting civilian deaths, saying that if the Turkish army was going to kill civilians, it might as well start with the “traitors” in Turkey itself: “There are plenty of traitors. There are also traitors in the National Assembly”, he had told in a transparent allusion to the HDP MPs. Keser then had to resign. On the 27th, seven members of the editorial staff of the daily Sözcü, against whom a police raid was launched in May 2016, were sentenced to prison terms of two to three and a half years on several charges including “assisting the [Gülénist network] FETÖ”. On the 30th, several inhabitants of Elaziğ were fined 153 Turkish pounds (around €20) for “disturbing the peace”: they had distributed the almanac of the left-wing daily Evrensel in solidarity...
Regarding censorship, the Turkish Association for Freedom of Expression (İFÖD) noted on 9 December that the number of websites blocked in the country in October was 288.310, compared to “only” 80.553 at the beginning of 2015, to which should be added more than 150.000 URLs (pages) blocked. On 26 December, the constitutional court, examining the Wikimedia foundation’s request, ruled that blocking access to Wikipedia in Turkey was an infringement of free expression. A court in Ankara had ruled on 29 April 2017 that certain content “attempted to make people believe that Turkey was operating [...] in cooperation with various terrorist organisations”. On the 30th, two lawyers called for the verdict to be implemented immediately without waiting for it to be published in writing.
Lawyers and human rights defenders were also repressed. For example, on 2nd December, the Batman Criminal Court initiated proceedings against the President of the Diyarbakir Bar Association and the Executive Office of the Diyarbakir Bar Association for their statement of 24 April declaring that they “share the grief of the Armenian people”. They are charged with “inciting public enmity and hatred”. The statement said, inter alia, “We remember with respect all the innocent Armenian civilians in Anatolia who lost their lives in the genocide”.
On the 3rd, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) condemned Turkey for seizing electronic data protected by the professional secrecy of three lawyers and refusing to return or destroy it. The seizure was aimed at finding out the means of communication between Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned PKK leader, and his former organisation. In 2012, the lawyers referred the case to ECHR, which took seven years to process their request. Turkey will have to pay € 3.500 to each of them (AFP). Such long delay and low compensation inevitably raise the question of the limits of the ECHR’s action...
On the same day, the Freedom of Expression Initiative (Düşünce Suçu(!?)na Karşı Girişim) posted its report for October 2019 on violations of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and peaceful protest (http://bianet.org/english/human-rights/216635-initiative-for-freedom-of-expression-releases-october-2019-report). The document was prepared in cooperation with the Human Rights Association (İHD) and the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV). On the 18th, the President of the Malatya section of İHD, Gönül Öztürkoğlu, was sentenced to six years and three months in prison for “propaganda for a terrorist organization” for her activities, including her preparation of a meeting in the framework of World Women’s Day...
Peaceful demonstrations by women against violence and feminicide continued to be the target of attacks by the police, a situation denounced on the 9th by the Turkish Bar Association in a joint statement which declared particularly “unacceptable” the violent intervention by the police the day before against the demonstration at Kadıköy, during which seven women were handcuffed behind their backs and arrested. On the 12th, intervening against a new demonstration where women danced to the Chilean tune Las Tesis in Ankara, the police arrested about ten participants. On the 14th, the CHP women MPs protested inside the Parliament against recent police violence using the same tune. One of them, Sera Kadıgil, told the session about the Chilean dance: “Thanks to you, Turkey has become the only country where [parliamentary] immunity is needed to hold this protest”. On the 17th, an investigation was opened in Izmir against 25 women who used the Las Tesis dance to protest, and on the 29th, a women’s demonstration was prevented by the police in Antalya.
Ironically, the meeting held on the 19th at the Ankara Governor’s office to discuss the “2020-2021 Plan to Combat Violence Against Women” did not include any female participants, as all the officials present were men...
On the trial of the Gezi Park protests and the imprisonment of Osman Kavala, the ECHR announced its verdict on the 10th. For the European institution, the detention of the businessman, human rights defender and philanthropist was decided and prolonged in bad faith, for illegal purposes and in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, and he should be released immediately. The following day, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International issued a joint statement calling on Turkey to respect this judgment, an appeal also made on the 13th by the Chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights Maria Arena. Kavala, the only detained defendant among the sixteen in the Gezi trial, has been jailed since 1st November 2017. His lawyers had appealed to the ECHR on 8 June 2018. However, on the 24th, at the fourth hearing of the case, the Court remanded him in detention before adjourning the trial to 28 January 2020. The court said the next day that it had not been notified of the ECHR’s decision, but the Ministry of Justice denied it. On 31 January, the defence appealed against the continued detention and requested the recusal of the judge on the grounds that the ECHR verdict had not been implemented.
Besides, three journalists who reported on the investigation launched after 15-year-old Berkin Elvan was killed by tear-gas canisters during protests in Gezi Park were charged with “targeting a public official who served in the fight against terrorism”. They are accused of revealing the identity of one of the suspect police officers in the investigation, making this officer a target for leftist organizations. In another case, that of the student Duran Eren Şahin, this time injured by a tear gas grenade, the Constitutional Court ruled that his rights had been violated and decided on a financial compensation of 20.000 pounds (3.100 €). However, the prosecutor’s office dismissed the criminal complaint against the police officers filed by Şahin’s lawyer: the surveillance videos had been destroyed, making it impossible to determine the identity of the shooter, and the office based its decision on the argument that the officer had been doing his duty.
To the already reported list of judicial abuses should be added several denials of justice that show how non-existent the independence of the judiciary has become under the AKP-MHP regime. We will only summarize them here. On the 13th, at the final hearing of the case of Ankara’s JİTEM (Gendarmerie Intelligence Organisation, illegally created and implicated in dozens of extra-judicial executions in Kurdistan), all the accused, including the then Minister of the Interior, Mehmet Ağar, were acquitted. The charge related to the enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions of 19 people in the 1990s. On the 17th, the hearing in the case of Medeni Yıldırım, 18, who was killed during a protest in Lice (Diyarbakir) in 2013 by military gunfire that also left eight people injured in the crowd. Not having received any of the requested reports from the television or forensic medicine, the court adjourned the hearing after five minutes. Numerous dismissed civil servants continue to fight for their reinstatement. Hundreds of “Academics for Peace”, although theoretically cleared by the Constitutional Court and acquitted, have still not been able to return to their posts or obtain payment of the salaries withheld. Some have committed suicide. The State of Emergency Inquiry Commission charged since 27 May 2017 with examining applications for reinstatement has processed 98.300 of the 126.000 applications received but has accepted only 9.600. 28.000 applications are still being examined. Processing times extends over years. Behind these figures lie thousands of personal tragedies. The Commission’s period of action was extended by one year on 26 December by presidential decree.
On the 10th, an art history student from Eskişehir, Furkan Sevim, was sentenced to nine years and nine months in prison for “belonging to and propaganda for the DHKP-C” on the basis of the following “evidence” found at his home: a cap with a star and a biography of İbrahim Kaypakkaya, the founder of the Communist Party (M-L) of Turkey (TKP/ML)... The defense appealed. On the 31st, a employee of a Gaziantep development agency, Hasan Emre Şentürk, who was dismissed after the coup d’état, was refused reinstatement, even though it was legally pronounced. Asked by his father about his case, Governor Davut Gül replied: “Should we reinstate all those who won a case?”. Şentürk remarked: “I have no friends in Court and I am an Alevi”...
In a rare, more positive piece of news, on the 27th, a court in Mardin acquitted Mürvet Aslan of “propaganda for a terrorist organization”. Charged with clicking “Like” on social network messages, the accused had not written anything herself. The court ruled that these “Likes” “cannot on their own be considered a crime”. This ruling could set a precedent for other cases, but given the state of justice in Turkey, it is not clear whether this will be the case...
In terms of international relations, Turkey continues to suffer setbacks after setbacks, particularly in the United States. On the 10th, the US House of Representatives passed a defence bill that included sanctions for the country’s purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system, including a ban on the transfer of F-35 aircrafts to Turkey. On the 12th, the US Senate unanimously approved the resolution recognising the Armenian genocide of 1915, which had previously been blocked three times by the Republicans at the request of the Presidency. The United States thus joins the 29 countries already recognizing this genocide: Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Vatican, Venezuela. At the same time, the influential chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, condemned Ankara’s actions in north-eastern Syria in a statement beginning with the words: “Turkish President Erdogan has been waging a bloody campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Syrian Kurds in north-eastern Syria...”. The next day, the American ambassador in Ankara was summoned by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, and the Turkish President threatened to close Incirlik (NATO air base) and Kürecik (anti-missile radar near Malatya), where US troops are stationed. On the 18th, the US Senate approved the defence bill already passed by the Representatives. Another challenge to Turkey is the Foreign Aid Law, which provides for $1.5 million in military training for Cyprus... (Al-Monitor)
Protests against corruption and the lack of services and jobs that began in early October have only increased in the Arab part of Iraq, as has violence against demonstrators. After more than 400 deaths, the resignation finally extracted from Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on 29 November and accepted by parliament on 1st December has not been enough to calm the streets.
President Barham Salih immediately began consultations to identify a possible successor. The Constitution stipulates that the largest bloc in Parliament must nominate a candidate within 15 days, but given the instability of the alliances represented there, Bagdad Parliament is unable to agree even on which bloc should be considered the largest... Iran is following events very closely; according to Reuters, Iranian General Qassem Soleimani arrived in Baghdad to try to influence the choice, but no candidate has emerged. As regards future elections, the Parliament approved on 5 December the law specifying the composition of the Independent High Electoral Commission, which will have to include seven judges.
At the same time, attacks on protesters continued. Some have been missing since the first rallies in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on 7 October, and their families often refuse to talk about it to avoid putting them at risk. On 6 October, unidentified gunmen committed a massacre when they opened fire on the crowd in Tahrir Square: 25 dead and at least 130 wounded. Pro-Iranian militias are suspected, without any real investigation apparently being carried out. On the 8th in Kerbela, activists were shot dead, while others escaped attempts using weapons with silencers and home-made bombs. On the 10th, a missing activist in Baghdad was found shot several times in the head. On 9 September, a report from the office of the Iraqi Human Rights Commission in Dhi-Qar counted 88 of the 94 dead demonstrators in the province as having been shot. As of 11 December, the Ministry of Health counted 511 dead...
On the 13th, when the Parliament, unable to agree on a successor to Abdul-Mahdi, was forced to extend the deadline for appointment until the 22nd, the country’s most prominent Shi’a religious leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called on the government to crack down on illegal armed groups and ensure that all arms and armed persons return to the exclusive control of the state. Amnesty International also called for an end to a “lethal campaign” against protesters, while a Human Rights Watch report revealed that government forces may have assisted the perpetrators of the 6 massacre. On the 15th, when a bomb placed under their vehicle injured two activists in Diwaniyah, and a shopkeeper known to support the protesters was shot dead in eastern Baghdad, the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights warned of a dangerous escalation in killings and abductions of protesters. On the 17th, another shop owner was murdered for the same reason, this time in the west of the capital. On the 18th, there was another disagreement in Parliament, this time over the electoral law. The Judicial Council announced that 2.700 incarcerated demonstrators had been released, with 107 remaining detained.
On the 17th, demonstrators in Basra blocked access to the Rumaila oil field, while those in Wasit blocked the entrance to the Zubaidiyah power plant, one of the largest in Iraq. On the 20th, two activists were killed and two others wounded near Nassiriya in three different attacks. In Baghdad, a political satirist escaped shots from a passing car. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned assassinations and enforced disappearances and the apparent failure of the government to bring the perpetrators to justice. On the same day, Ayatollah Sistani talked again to call for early elections as “the quickest and surest way out of the crisis”.
On the 23rd, the Supreme Judicial Council announced its selection of the seven judges to form the Independent High Electoral Commission. The Commission includes one member of the Sadrist coalition, one member of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s coalition, one member of the Sh’ia Badr movement led by Hadi al-Amiri, and two Kurdish judges, one from the KDP and one from the PUK. The Council also requested the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to select its representatives to serve as electoral commissioners (NRT). On the 24th, Parliament approved an electoral law establishing smaller districts and allowing candidates to run individually rather than on party lists, changes which did not convince the demonstrators. On the 26th, the appointment of a new Prime Minister remained deadlocked, despite the original deadline of the 23th long gone. President Barham Salih indicated that he would prefer to resign rather than support candidates rejected by the people.
During this period, protests and attacks against protesters continued: on the 22nd, the roads to the Roumaila oil field near Basra were blocked, and on the 24th protesters attempted to enter the West Qurna oil field, while others blocked the port of Maqal on the Shatt-al-Arab. On the 25th in Kerbela, a group attacked demonstrators with knives and gunshots, injuring at least two people. On the 29th, the protesters provoked the suspension for one day of the exploitation of the Nassiriyah oil field (80,000 barrels/day); the next day, the activist Ali al-Khafaji was murdered in Nassiriyah by men armed with silencer guns. On 28 September, the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights put the number of missing persons since the start of the demonstrations at at least 68, adding that during the same period at least 33 assassination attempts had resulted in 14 deaths and 19 injuries.
In addition to the violence provoked by the demonstrations and their repression, there are those opposing Iran and the United States on Iraqi soil. On the 4th, the New York Times reported that Iran was using Iraqi militias to bring short-range missiles into the country while the country was concerned about its internal political situation. On the 16th, Iranian trade officials reported that monthly imports to Iraq had dropped by more than $ 200 million as a result of the boycott of Iranian products. On the 27th, at least 30 rockets (about 10 according to Coalition sources) hit the “K-1” military base in Kirkuk, killing an American contractor and, according to local security sources, two policemen. The United States, accusing the pro-Iranian militia Kataib Hezbollah, carried out a retaliatory strike near Al-Qaim which killed at least twenty-five of its members. On the 30th, Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi, President Salih, Moqtada al-Sadr and Ayatollah Sistani condemned the unilateral action of the United States, and the Iraqi National Security Council, denouncing a violation of the country’s sovereignty, threatened to reconsider its relations with them. On the 31st, supporters of Kataib Hizbollah, accompanied by several militia commanders, including Hadi al-Amiri, Qais al-Khazali and Falih al-Fayadh, attacked the United States Embassy in Baghdad, causing superficial damage. The Iraqi President, Prime Minister and Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament condemned the attack and the failure to comply with the rules on the protection of diplomatic missions.
In this increasingly tense context, the KRG tried to protect the initial results of the ongoing negotiations with Baghdad. On 1st December, as the Baghdad Parliament accepted the resignation of the Iraqi Prime Minister, a KRG delegation was in Baghdad to finalise the agreement on the 2020 federal budget. The budget provides for the payment by Baghdad of KRG civil servants in exchange for oil deliveries. Erbil had been unable to respect a similar agreement for 2019, and some Iraqi MPs criticised Abdul-Mahdi for being too complacent towards it. However, in Erbil, Planning Minister Dara Rashid said on Rûdaw that there was no question of calling the agreement into question after Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation. On the 7th, the KRG Prime Minister’s office announced progress in other areas, such as an agreement with the Iraqi Interior Ministry allowing the Kurdistan Region to issue its own visas, thus giving official approval to a practice already prevalent. On the 12th, the Iraqi Ministry of Oil confirmed the conclusion with Erbil of an agreement according to which the KRG in 2020 will deliver 250.000 barrels daily to Baghdad, using the surplus of 200.000 barrels to gradually reduce its debt to the international companies exploiting its oil fields, to which it could owe up to 18 billion dollars (ISHM).
On the 14th, the KRG sent to Baghdad a proposal for the resumption of the process of implementation of Article 140 of the Constitution. This article, which aims at resolving through dialogue the issue of the “disputed territories”, with mixed populations, provided for the cancellation of the arabization measures implemented by Saddam Hussein’s regime and the holding of a referendum in which the residents of these areas could choose between remaining within federal Iraq and becoming a part of Kurdistan Region. However, the referendum, which was supposed to be held before 2007, never took place. Discussions had begun between Baghdad and the two main Kurdish parties, KDP and PUK, after the appointment of Abdul-Mahdi as Prime Minister, but were interrupted by protests. According to KRG Federal Affairs Minister Khalid Shwani, the proposal has two stages: first the normalization of the “current military, security, administrative and demographic conditions in Kirkuk and the other disputed territories” and then the re-launch of the implementation of Article 140. The Kurds are in fact seeking a return to a form of joint administration of the disputed territories. On the same day, the President of the Turkmen Front, Arshad Salihi, declared from Kirkuk his opposition to the involvement of Baghdad in a discussion on an issue “concerning [only] the components of Kirkuk”.
However, given the ever-increasing danger posed by ISIS, which is still exploiting the security vacuum in the disputed territories, a more coordinated administration will have to be put in place. Several attacks on 30 November, including two bombs in a busy market, left 16 people injured in Kirkuk. The village of Kolajo, south-east of Kifri, was mortar-bombed and the Asayish (Kurdish Security) who came in response were ambushed and three of them killed. On the 3rd, Hawija police captured the military chief of the Salahaddin region and former deputy of Al-Baghdadi, Hamid Shaker – also known as Abu Khaldun. On the 4th, a Kurdish couple was shot dead in the village of Haftaghar (Daquq).
Diyala province remains an epicentre of jihadist presence. ISIS carried out a series of attacks there earlier this month, including bombings, assaults on security force positions and sniper fire, which left at least 21 people dead and 44 injured, including peshmerga, Hashd al-Shaabi, Iraqi military and police personnel and civilians. On the 5th, the Ministry of Peshmerga called for increased support by the anti-ISIS coalition. Attacks continued the following week: a farmer killed by jihadists and an explosion near a religious shrine on the 7th, two more IEDs on the 10th and one civilian injured, and another IED on the 12th which left one civilian dead and four injured. On 15, two attacks on the security forces killed five people and wounded four. On the 17th, one attack and one bomb resulted in a total of two dead and two injured. In response, Kurdish security forces conducted several raids near Khanaqin and captured ten jihadists. On the 19th, tribal clashes killed four people, including two soldiers, and wounded four others.
The provinces of Kirkuk and Mosul were also affected. On the 6th, an IED killed a policeman and injured two others in Kirkuk. In the village of Hatin, West of Kirkuk, jihadists killed two Iraqi federal police officers. On the 24th, a policeman was killed in an attack on the Khabbaz oil field West of Kirkuk and two others were injured. On the evening of the 26th, a civilian was killed and two others injured (another source counted four civilians killed) by gunfire against a civilian vehicle on the Kirkuk-Tikrit highway (Rûdaw). A bomb also killed one civilian and injured another on the 6th in Mosul. On the 15th, two civilians were killed by an IED West of Mosul; on the 24th, two bombs killed two and injured five security forces.
On the 27th, Rudaw announced for the end of the month the visit to Kurdistan of a high-level Iraqi military delegation, charged with discussing the security of the disputed territories, those under Iraqi and Kurdish control. On the 29th, Iraqi forces launched a major operation covering the regions of Kirkuk, Diyala, Ninewa (Mosul), Salahaddin and the desert area on the Syrian border. It resulted in the destruction of dozens of tunnels and caches of weapons and fighters, nine of whom were killed. On the 30th, an Iraqi officer was wounded in Kirkuk by an improvised explosive device. On the 31st, eleven jihadists were killed in Ninewa by air strikes and a ground operation. These successes do not mean the end of the jihadist attacks: on 8 December, Iraqi forces had already concluded an anti-ISIS operation entitled “Will to Victory” which had covered the provinces of Salahaddin, Diyala and Kirkuk over more than 3,000 km²...
Concerning internal politics in Kurdistan, the KRG submitted to the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament a draft “reform law” which was labelled “Urgent” and examined in first reading on the 16th. The text, supported by most of the political parties, aims at improving budgetary transparency: reorganisation of pensions, reduction of salaries of senior civil servants, elimination of double salaries and reorganising the budget of the two main peshmerga divisions. Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee is due to examine the draft after its first reading and will prepare it for a second reading before it is put to the vote.
The issue of arabization continues to cause tensions in the disputed territories. The most recent is linked to the unexpected decision of a tribal chief and landowner in Dubiz, in the West of Kirkuk province, to lease for the next 20 years the 180 donums (about 45 hectares or 125 acres) of agricultural land he owns in three villages to Arab Bedouins. Jamil Talabani has thus decided not to renew the lease of his Kurdish tenant farmers, who had been renting his land for years and refused to pay the significantly increased rent he was asking them to pay, five million dinars (about € 4.000) per donum per year. The tenant farmers, caught off guard, are hoping for support from the Kurdish political parties and are even considering buying the land concerned. After the dismissal of the Kurdish governor of Kirkuk by Baghdad in October 2017 and the installation of an interim Arab governor, Rakan al-Jabouri, the Kurds of the Dubiz region claim that he has restarted the process of arabisation in the province. In the past two months, about 1,250 donums of land have been transferred to Arabs from other parts of Iraq. In the nearby town of Sargaran, about 480.000 donums are under dispute (Gulan Media).
On December 15, the last historical building in Hasankeyf to be moved, the Er-Rızk mosque, began its journey to the “New Hasankeyf Cultural Park” where six other buildings are already located. The 1.700-ton building was loaded into a 256-wheel transport system to be moved. What will not be transferred will be gradually submerged under the waters of the Tigris River as the reservoir of the Ilisu Dam upstream is filled. Filling began between 20 and 22 July this year – just as a fire broke out in Hasankeyf Castle. As if the authorities, who did not officially announce the start of the process, had taken advantage of the fire to divert attention from the filling...
The construction of the dam, part of the gigantic GAP project launched in 1982, has continued despite all attempts to stop it. The authorities did not hesitate to damage part of the valley’s heritage wealth in an attempt to remove arguments from opponents. Two monuments, including the Tigris bridge, were covered with stones under the pretext of “restoration”. More than 200 caves dating from the Neolithic period, and a large part of the valley near the citadel have been filled with excavation waste.
This disregard for heritage that does not belong to the dominant culture, the one that can be linked to Turkish history in the narrowest ethnicist sense, is unfortunately historically characteristic of the Turkish state. We can remember how it destroyed in the past everything that could remind us of Kurdish history, for example Birca Belek, the "colourful palace" built in Cizre by the Kurdish Bedirxan dynasty. The ruling AKP has certainly made a change of orientation by including the Ottoman remains in what deserves to be preserved, but its Islamist orientation leads it to reject the heritage of religious minorities, as will be seen below.
The authorities also seem to have taken no steps to prevent the recent looting of the stones of the medieval walls and citadel of Diyarbakir, which are listed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. This is shown by a set of parliamentary questions put to Culture Minister Nuri Ersoy by MP HDP Musa Farisoğlulları on the 20th of this month: “Are you aware of the looting in the area of the citadel of Diyarbakır and Sur? Are you going to take action against those responsible? Will there be a programme to restore the damaged buildings? Are there plans to assess the extent of the destruction caused by the looting? Will you take the necessary precautions and measures to avoid similar events in the future?”. According to testimonies from residents obtained by the Mezopotamya agency, stones decorated with animal figures are particularly popular with thieves and are now found in new restaurants and cafes in the Sur district (Bianet). After the destruction of a large part of this old district by the Turkish security forces between autumn 2015 and the end of winter 2016, the current neglect can only mean one thing: this heritage is not worthy of being preserved.
Intangible heritage is no better considered, as shown by a new parliamentary question put on the 26th by the same MP, this time on the “cemevi” of Diyarbakır – the place of worship of the Alevis, which owes its name to the fact that they hold there their ceremony called djem (written cem in the Turkish and Kurdish alphabets, the “c” being pronounced “dj”). In his question, Farisoğulları asked how it was that the cemevis were excluded from places of worship whose annual electricity expenses are covered by the funds of the Directorate of Religious Affairs. However, in a 2016 judgement, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) had expressed an opinion in favour of their “recognition as places of worship”. Bianet’s account does not allow us to conclude whether electricity has been cut off at the concerned cemevi, but it is clear that, here again, this heritage is not worthy of being preserved.
Recently, a new wave of repression has hit Dersim’s musicians. After the musician Şenol Akdağ, who was jailed and then arrested at the end of November after a concert abroad for “giving a concert under the flag and banner of an illegal organisation”, it is Yılmaz Çelik, imprisoned in a police raid at his home after giving a concert on 8 December in Dersim, who was charged with “membership in” and “propaganda for” a terrorist organisation. As Ferhat Tunç and Mikail Aslan said after this latest arrest in an interview with Bianet: “They want to prevent the mother tongue and cultural values from reaching people through art”. The State is thus continuing the repression of the 1990s, which forced dozens of Dersimis musicians, mostly Kurdish or Alevis, into exile in Europe. Not only is this heritage not considered worthy of preservation, but it is hunted down as a threat to the State: “The reason we were sent into exile in the 1990s was because of the art we made, and the reason we are exposed to oppression today is because of the art we make”, one of these musicians told Bianet.
Alevis in Turkey have been targeted in the past, notably in the Gazi district of İstanbul, where in 1995, 22 people died and 155 were wounded in a series of armed attacks. This explains the anxiety of the residents of the Piri Reis district of Yenişehir (Mersin), most of whom are Alevis, when one morning at the beginning of the month they found about twenty of their houses marked with different dates. This happened one week after another incident at Karşıyaka (Izmir) in which houses belonging to Alevis and Kurds had been marked with red crosses. They immediately informed the police.
Other minorities are also concerned about the State’s control over their community representation. On 4 December, the Nor Zartonk Armenian group issued a statement on the election of their new patriarch, whose process began in March after the death of Patriarch Mesrop Mutayfan. After the Interior Ministry issued an order preventing the participation of foreign candidates in the election, the group said the decision violated the Turkish Constitution as well as international conventions, citing a Constitutional Court ruling dated 22 May 2019. Is there a move towards the authoritarian appointment of an “administrator” as Armenian patriarch, similar to what is widely practised for elected HDP members?
No doubt some might consider that these blockages to access many elements of the collective heritage, while certainly harmful, are an exaggeratedly theoretical problem with no daily impact, or only concern the actors in the field of culture. This month’s two-day discussion forum in Diyarbakir organised by the Tahir Elçi Foundation for Human Rights on the Kurdish Question’ belies this: one of the participants pointed out how much a person prevented from expressing oneself in one’s mother tongue remains disadvantaged in all areas of life. State obstacles to access to the Kurdish language have long had serious socio-economic consequences for the Kurdish community in Turkey.