The new Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, seems for the time being to be able to keep his position. Unlike his two predecessors, he has enjoyed the support of both Iran and the United States. Moreover, after announcing his priorities: combating the epidemic and punishing those responsible for murdering demonstrators, he has reinstated Lieutenant General Abdul Wahab al-Saadi at the head of the anti-terrorist service, whose dismissal at the end of September 2019 contributed to trigger the demonstrations. On 6th June, he obtained parliamentary approval for seven new ministers, including two Kurds: Fuad Hussayn (PDK), the former federal finance minister, was transferred to Foreign Affairs, and Salar Abdul Sattar (UPK) became justice minister. They join three other Kurdish ministers, previously appointed to Construction, Housing and Public Works.
At the same time, discussions were to continue between the Federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on the issue of the latter’s budget. The KRG, having received the necessary funds from Baghdad, had committed itself at the end of May to the prompt payment of February salaries to its civil servants, but Baghdad indicated that further payments would be suspended upon the conclusion of an agreement with Erbil, including on the supply of oil. However, the discussions really resumed only at the end of the month, first with a meeting between Prime Minister Kadhimi and the President of the Kurdistan Region, Nechirvan Barzani, and then the arrival in Baghdad on the 23rd of a KRG delegation led by its Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani. At the end of June, the two parties had not yet reached an agreement, even though it was declared to be close...
One of the reasons for these difficulties is that both governments are now facing the same problems: falling oil prices and a growing coronavirus epidemic. The harmful consequences of the reopening on 18th May of two Iraqi-Iranian crossing points, one in Kurdistan and the other in the South of the country, decided in response to a telephone request from the Iranian President, were not long in coming: after a short incubation period, Iraq and Kurdistan both quickly began to report a new increase in cases. In Kurdistan, the majority of the newly contaminated patients were from Penjwin, less than 10 km from one of the crossing points with Iran – but six cases were also reported in Duhok. Faced with this situation, the KRG imposed a one-week confinement starting on 1st June. On the 3rd, there were nearly 250 new cases in Kurdistan, including 104 in the last 24 hours, for a total of 745 confirmed cases, eight deaths and 434 recoveries. Surprisingly, Duhok recorded the highest number of cases with 52, Sulaymaniyah 46, Erbil and Garmiyan each reported six cases... Hospitals were quickly saturated, to the point that the authorities had to accommodate patients in hotels. In Iraq, on the same date, there were 781 new cases and 21 deaths, for a total of 8.168 cases with 256 deaths (Kurdistan-24). On the 6th, Kurdistan had 1.089 cases: 634 in Sulaymaniyah, 33 in Erbil and 97 in Duhok, compared with more than 11.000 for the whole of Iraq...
On the 15th, as the increase in the number of cases did not seem to slow down, the KRG Ministry of the Interior announced fines ranging from 5.000 to 150.000 dinars for those not complying with health measures, including the wearing of masks in public, and the ban on travel between Kurdistan’s provinces was extended until 1st July. On the 17th, Kurdistan reached a sad record with 16 deaths in 24 hours, the highest number since the start of the outbreak in March. On that date, there were cumulated figures of 2.821 cases, including 1.623 active cases, 1.123 recoveries and 75 deaths. This spike in deaths comes as many health workers in Sulaymaniyah province went on strike to protest against the non-payment of their salaries by the KRG (Rûdaw). On the 25th, in Sulaymaniyah, 10 people died from the disease within 10 hours in several towns in the province, which then deplored 111 of the 133 deaths in the whole of the Kurdistan Region (Rudaw). On the 26th, Iraq had more than 2.000 new cases and 100 deaths in 24 hours. In Kurdistan, in the last week of the month, nearly 1.300 new cases were confirmed, for a total of 3.937 active cases, 200 deaths and 1.767 recoveries.
In this difficult health context, attacks by ISIS jihadists had become increasingly frequent over the last two months. In early June, after a visit to Kirkuk by the new Iraqi Prime Minister, the Iraqi army launched a new offensive against the jihadists, supported by the US-led coalition. Entitled “Heroes of Iraq”, this campaign aims to “clean up” the disputed territories between Baghdad and Erbil, which have been particularly hard hit by the jihadists’ attacks, in particular the burning of fields belonging to Kurdish farmers. The operation is to be carried out in coordination with the Pechmergas, in particular the units stationed north of Makhmur, between Kirkuk and Erbil. This did not, however, prevent a new jihadist attack on the night of the 13th to 14th against the Kurdish religious minority of the Kaka’i, during which seven inhabitants of the village of Dara, in Khanaqin, were killed and two others wounded. This attack was only the latest in a series that had targeted this region and the outskirts of the town of Kirkuk in previous days. On the 15th, the President of the Kurdistan Region, Nechirvan Barzani, expressed his concern at the situation of insecurity in the disputed territories and called once again for greater cooperation between the Pechmergas and the Iraqi military to protect the communities living there (Kurdistan-24). On the 24th, discussions on this subject were again held between the KRG and US military officials in Iraq (Rudaw), but so far they have not led to any improvement in the situation. Several pechmerga leaders have complained in the previous weeks that they are not being heard by the Iraqis.
Another issue that has come to the fore this month is the Turkish military incursions into the mountainous areas of northern Iraqi Kurdistan. The incessant Turkish military operations, and in particular the aerial bombardments, are claiming more and more civilian victims. On the 2nd, a Turkish strike killed five fighters of the Kurdish Iranian party PJAK in a village in Suleimaniyeh, near the Iranian border, and damaged a local hospital. On the 7th, further Turkish bombardments caused major fires in the Bradost mountains near Soran, causing panic among the inhabitants of nearby villages. Firefighters had great difficulty in controlling the flames because of the very mountainous terrain (Kurdistan-24). On the evening of the 8th, a demonstration was held in Suleimaniyeh to demand an end to the Turkish bombing. The province of Duhok was also hit by bombardments, particularly the Deraluk region, regularly bombed, of which out of 82 villages, only nine are still inhabited, and that of Shiladze, of which 85 villages out of 91 are now abandoned. As for the Sidakan region, near Soran, 118 of its 264 villages are now empty... The district mayor, Ihsan Chalabi, said in Rudaw: “If there is no bombardment for one day, people feel like it’s Eid [religious holiday]...”.
Far from being collateral damage, it seems that the civilian casualties and destruction are due to a strategy deliberately chosen by Turkey: to strike inhabited places to terrorise and drive out the inhabitants in order to establish a buffer zone under Turkish military control.
On the 14th, the Turkish Ministry of Defence announced the launch of a new operation, “Claw-Eagle”, with strikes on the night of the 13th to 14th aimed at PKK bases in Qandil, Sinjar, Zap, Avasin-Basyan, Makhmur and Hakurk. In Sinjar, four members of the Shingal Resistance Units (YBŞ), established against Daech and close to the PKK, were wounded. Several NGOs and the Yezidi Nobel laureate, Nadia Murad, denounced the strikes on Sinjar, as they risked preventing the return of many Yezidi families to the region. On the eve of the bombings, the Iraqi Ministry of Migration had precisely announced the forthcoming return of 200 families from camps in Duhok province, after 150 had just returned... Turkey’s choice to strike at this precise moment shows that Ankara is not only targeting the PKK, Hayrî Demir, the editor-in-chief of the Ezidi Press, told Kurdistan-24. On the 16th, the Iraqi authorities again summoned the Turkish ambassador in Baghdad to hand him a note of protest, and issued a statement denouncing a “violation of Iraqi sovereignty” (AFP). On the same day, Iranian artillery again struck the border territories of Iraqi Kurdistan, especially near Haji Omaran and Choman (Soran). The strikes were prepared by drone reconnaissance (Kurdistan-24).
On the 17th, Turkey announced that it had deployed special forces “in self-defence” to the Haftanin region, in an operation called “Tiger Claws”. “Our commandos, supported by combat helicopters and drones, have been transported by our air force”, said the Turkish Defence Ministry, justifying the operation by the “recent upsurge in attacks on our police stations and military bases” located near the Iraqi border. On the 18th, Iraq called on Turkey to withdraw its troops from its territory and to stop its “acts of provocation”. On the same day, a 36-year-old Kurdish shepherd was killed in the Bradost region. The PKK said it was responding to Turkish fire, and the next day there were still five civilian casualties from Turkish air strikes, including three people hit in their vehicle near Shiladzê, while Ankara announced the death of one of its soldiers. On the third day of this ground offensive, the Iraqi Kurdistan Government reacted for the first time, condemning the death of civilians and calling on Ankara to “respect its sovereignty” and the PKK to “leave these regions and not create tensions”. On the 21st, a second Turkish soldier was killed, again in a place Ankara did not not specify (AFP).
On the 25th, a new air raid targeted a pick-up truck in Kuna Masi, a recreational area frequented by many families North of Suleimanieh. The driver was killed and six civilians injured nearby, local mayor Kamrane Abdallah told AFP. According to his statements, the injured, “two women, two children and two men”, were all members of the same family. On the 28th, Ankara announced the death of a third soldier (AFP). Turkish soldiers were also deployed at the end of the month in the hills surrounding the town of Zakho, while reports emerged of the establishment of new Turkish military bases in Iraqi Kurdistan (WKI).
This military operation in Iraq, like all the previous ones, has as its objective the eradication of the PKK... None of the previous ones have been able to achieve this, and the signs are beginning to accumulate that this one will not succeed either. The French daily Ouest France even headlined on the 28th: “The Turkish operation gets bogged down in Iraqi Kurdistan”. Although Turkey is preventing the media and human rights defenders from accessing its areas of operation, some information is nevertheless filtering through: while the Turkish general staff has been able to announce the “neutralization” of a dozen PKK fighters, the operation is still struggling to “clean up” the Haftanin region as planned in order to finally progress towards Qandil. After 36 years of a devastating and dead-end war, Turkey still believes in the theory that its opponent will inevitably collapse in ten minutes, thanks to its “ultimate offensive” to eradicate the PKK for good…
In Iran, the official figures for the coronavirus epidemic and those collected by the opposition in exile diverge widely.
On 1st June, Ministry of Health spokesman Dr. Kianoush Jahanpour announced 3.117 new cases in the last 24 hours, for a total of 7.878 deaths. This official figure, although the highest since the early April surge, is still much lower than those published the next day by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI): more than 48.800 deaths in 324 cities across the country. These calculations by the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), a member of the NCRI, accompanied by figures calculated by province, unfortunately seem plausible: Khuzistan 3.745 dead, Qom 3.555, Khorasan Razavi 3.110, Sistan-Baluchistan 1.545, Lorestan 1.532, Fars 1.071, Kurdistan 935, Kerman 580, North Khorassan 548, and Hormozgan 245. It seems clear that after the significant drop in early May, Iran is hit by a new surge due largely to a premature reopening imposed for economic reasons by President Rohani despite opposition from the Ministry of Health.
The epidemic is hitting minorities hardest: the seven most seriously affected regions are the Kurdish majority provinces of Western Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Kermanchah as well as Khuzestan (Arabistan), Bushehr, Hormozgan, and Sistan-Baluchistan. Already on April 19th, in an article by the Middle East Institute entitled “COVID-19: Hitting Iran’s minorities harder”, Ramin Jabbarli and Brenda Shaffer warned of the risk, pointing out that the border provinces, poorer, also have less developed health infrastructures than the country’s Persian “Centre”. On 1st June, the deputy governor of Kurdistan province told the Fars news agency that the epidemic in the province, especially in its capital Sanandaj, was “alarming”. According to state television, the spokesman for the Kermanshah Medical University said: “With 235 new patients [...], the number of patients in the province has reached 5.752”, and the president of the Western Azerbaijan Medical University said the number of cases in Mahabad had “increased rapidly and alarmingly”. On the 10th, the Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) reported that the pandemic continued to hit Iranian Kurdistan particularly hard, with the cities of Sardasht and Sanandaj, for example, both experiencing hundreds of new cases in a matter of weeks. At that time, the official figures were 172.000 cases and 8.281 deaths, rising to 187.000 and 8.500 respectively a week later. In contrast, the NCRI counted more than 53.600 deaths...
The authorities, faced with this situation, are saying two things: they blame the population for not respecting the rules of social distancing, but at the same time repeat that there is no cause for concern, the increase in the number of cases recorded being the result only of more intensive screening... Finally, the regime represses any independent investigation, such as that of Kurdish journalist Sharam Safari, into the way in which many cases and deaths were concealed: Safari was sentenced to 91 days in prison in mid-month for “publishing false news and confusing the public” (WKI). On the 19th, the deputy of Saqqez and Baneh said: “The indifference of the authorities of the Kurdistan province in the last ten days of May and the lack of adequate supervision in the province have brought the coronavirus situation in Kurdistan to a critical point. Officials and authorities in Kurdistan province continue to blame the population for the consequences of their inaction, and the population is very concerned” (CNRI).
On the 25th, Iran announced more than 10.000 deaths, more than 100 per day during the last seven days, for a number of cases of 215.096 (France-24), and on the 29th, there were 162 deaths in one day, the worst daily death toll since the beginning of the epidemic in February. On the 27th, it was announced that the wearing of masks would become compulsory from the 4th of July in closed spaces or during gatherings.
The health situation in prisons continues to give cause for concern, particularly for the Kurdish activist Zeynab Jalalian, accused of membership of the PJAK and the only female political prisoner serving a life sentence in Iran. Earlier this month, it was learned that she had been quarantined in the women’s prison in Qarchak (30 km south of Tehran), where she had been transferred at the end of April. The prison administration did not specify the cause of her isolation, but her father believes that she was infected with the coronavirus. According to him, the regime denied her admission to hospital and access to a doctor. According to the Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN), the prison is completely overcrowded with about 2.000 inmates, and it is impossible to maintain sanitary distances. It seems that Jalalian later recovered from the coronavirus, but at the end of the month she went on hunger strike to demand return to her former prison in Khoy.
At the same time, the killings of cross-border Kurdish or kolbar porters, already very numerous in May (26 killed since January), continued this month. Three were killed and eight wounded in the first week of June near Baneh, Chaldiran, Saqqez and Sardasht, and another, wounded on 28th May, died in hospital. A quite particular incident related to the coronavirus epidemic affected a border post in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, involving a group of almost two hundred porters from Khurmal: in a hitherto unheard of event, on the night of the 23rd, according to different sources, after they had had their charges confiscated, or had been forbidden to enter Iran, the border being closed for sanitary reasons, they attacked the border post at Sargat! During the ensuing exchange of fire, one porter was killed and four border guards injured. The prosecutor of Halabja issued an arrest warrant for the border guards who shot the smugglers (Rûdaw).
In the week of the 14th, two more porters were killed and six others wounded by Turkish soldiers in Salmas, and Iranian soldiers in Baneh and Sardasht. In addition, two kolbars died on mines dating from the Iran-Iraq war. On the 22nd, one kolbar was wounded when his group was ambushed by Iranian border guards (WKI). On the 27th, three porters were wounded near Nowsud, and the following day, two others were shot and a third wounded by Iranian border guards near Urmia (Kurdistan-24).
As in every summer, unfortunately, the Kurdistan region of Iran has again been hit by forest fires, some of them criminal, others caused by drought and deforestation, with the poor economic situation encouraging the inhabitants to cut down wood in preparation for the winter. The Kurdistan Human Rights Association KMMK reported several fires that targeted agricultural land in Sarpol Zahab and forests in the provinces of Lorestan, Kermanshah, Ilam and Kurdistan. A soldier was killed in the fires, which were bravely fought by members of several Kurdish environmental associations, such as the Zhiway Pawa Society in the town of Paveh (Kermanshah), of which about 100 members gathered to fight the fires (Rûdaw). One of the association’s leaders, Mokhtar Khandani, who was interviewed by Rûdaw on 6th June, died with two other people in the fires at the end of the month. The Hengaw association said the three activists were killed by a mine placed by the regime to fight the rebels, but other sources said they were surrounded by the flames. Their deaths, made suspicious by Etelaat’s attempts to censor their publication, triggered protest rallies in Paveh on 29th at their funeral. Another human rights association, the KMMK, called for the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry.
Moreover, at the end of the month, the PDKI announced a “major engagement” of its pechmergas with the pasdaran near the Halgurd Mountains, during which the latter had to withdraw, the Kurdish fighters having for their part suffered no losses (WKI).
The health situation has not stopped the repression, and the list of arrests, convictions and executions carried out by the regime has continued to grow. On the 4th, the French scholar Roland Marchal, who had been released on 20th March, appealed in an op-ed published in Le Monde not to forget the foreign academics in prison, including his colleague, the French-Iranian researcher Fariba Adelkhah, who had just been sentenced to six years in prison after one year in detention. On the 6th, the Kurdish environmental activist Sohaib Saadi was arrested in Sanandadj (and beaten during his arrest). On the 15th, it was learned that the Kurdish political prisoner Hedayat Abdollahpur was executed on 21st May, without his family being informed, and then buried in an unknown location. On 12th May, his wife had been told by the deputy prosecutor of Urmia that if she did not know where her husband was, she “would do better to go to the cemetery”... Arrested with about ten other inhabitants of his village after a clash between the PDKI’s pechmergas and the Pasdaran, Abdollahpour, suspected of supporting the PDKI, had been tortured and sentenced in February 2017 for “enmity with God” (NCRI). At the same time, Kurdish journalist Nasrollah Nashine, who was jailed for six years in 2016 for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic” and who had taken advantage of a leave of absence to seek refuge in Turkey, was sent back to Iran by the Turkish authorities. On the 13th, Kurdish activist Babek Dabirian was arrested in Kermanshah, and the next day Jaffar Awsafi was arrested in Bokan and held incommunicado. In addition, the authorities’ announcement of the death of the coronavirus in Saqqez prison of Kurdish prisoner Kamal Husseini was greeted with suspicion and several human rights organisations called for an investigation. In Kermanshah, Etelaat agents informed the family of Khalil Muradi, arrested in October 2017, that he had died in a “car accident”. On the 19th, the Iranian-American environmental activist Ashfeen Sheikhollah, released from prison five weeks earlier, was again arrested while visiting his parents in Sanandaj. Also in Sanandaj, environmental activist Faranak Jamshedi was arrested on the 21st. On the 23rd, the Kurdish activist Sirwan Rahimi was arrested in Dehgolan (WKI).
On the 30th, Amnesty International drew attention to the fate of Syrian Kurd Kamal Hassan Ramezan Soulo, who has been detained for three years in Western Azerbaijan, tortured and threatened with execution: his Etelaat jailers refuse to recognize his true identity, despite two court rulings challenging their claims that Soulo is in fact a senior PJAK official, Kamal Soor, sentenced to death in absentia in 2011 after an attack on a police station. Amnesty launched a call to write to the Head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, calling for the release of Kamal Hassan Ramezan Soulo (https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde13/2612/2020/en/). On the same day, Iranian activist Rouhollah Zam, exiled in France but lured and then abducted in Baghdad in October 2019 before being transferred to Iran, was sentenced to death for espionage. He had revealed on his Telegram channel called Amadnews the existence of 63 bank accounts in the name of the former Head of the judiciary, Sadegh Amoli Larijani, into which money from defendants’ bail and fines paid by convicted prisoners had been deposited…
Abroad, a former PDKI leader, Sadegh Zarza, 64, survived an assassination attempt in the Netherlands on the 20th. Stabbed repeatedly by a 38-year-old Iranian man with whom he had an appointment and who was arrested, he remains in critical condition (Kurdistan-24). His family has blamed the Iranian regime, which has already had many opponents assassinated abroad.
The territory of the Autonomous Administration of North and Eastern Syria (AANES), which it has become customary to refer to by the Kurdish name of Rojava (Western Kurdistan), although its population is far from being exclusively Kurdish, is simultaneously facing war, the coronavirus epidemic and water shortages. The latest Turkish invasion East of the Euphrates last October further aggravated the latter problem. By occupying the Serê Kaniyê region, Turkey’s jihadist mercenaries have also taken control of the Al-Alouk pumping station, which supplies an area of almost half a million inhabitants, including the town of Hassakah. The station was taken out of service at the time of the invasion and then repaired, and has been shut down several times since then. Moreover, according to the British NGO Solidarity Economy Association, “Turkish military forces and their allies are constantly attacking the water infrastructure, setting fire to newly planted orchards and damming the rivers that supply Syria with most of its fresh water and electricity”. The use of water as a weapon is not a first for Turkey, which used already in 2015 its many dams on the Euphrates to limit the inflow to Rojava. In partnership with several other NGOs, the British organisation has launched a campaign called “Water for Rojava”. Its aim is to raise £100.000 to help local communities maintain water infrastructure and even install new wells, pumps and agricultural irrigation systems. The campaign website: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/water-for-rojava (RojInfo).
In addition to the lack of water, while the Syrian economy, undermined by nine years of war, is threatened with collapse, the farmers of Rojava are also confronted, as every summer, with numerous fires, some of them criminal... It now takes 2.300 Syrian pounds to get a dollar, compared to 1.000 at the beginning of the year (and 50 before the war, so to speak in prehistoric times...), and the situation of the families is becoming more and more critical. In the territories administrated by Damascus, 80% of Syrians live below the poverty line. A shortage of wheat could cause unrest both there and in AANES area. Wheat from the Euphrates is therefore vital. Kurdish farmers have little desire to do business with Damascus, but the regime has an advantage: it offers 400 Syrian pounds per kilo, against only 315 for AANES... The latter ponders how to counter this by supporting the price of wheat, and perhaps also by imposing an exit tax which would then “restore the balance”....
In addition, the economic crisis is likely to worsen further as the United States will as of the 17th of this month impose economic sanctions on Syria under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, named after the pseudonym of the Syrian military police photographer who defected in 2013 and released 55.000 pictures showing civilians being tortured by the Syrian military police. The sanctions, which are unprecedentedly harsh, will target not only many Syrian politicians but also all foreign companies that have dealings with the regime, which could have a major impact on the country’s reconstruction. If, as stated on the 9th by Fawza Yousef, one of the PYD leaders, the aim is first and foremost to punish the regime and protect civilians, and US officials have promised the ANSEA that it will be granted exemptions, the fact remains that Rojava is internationally considered to be part of Syria and its inhabitants will certainly be affected.
At the same time, the intra-Kurdish “unity discussions”, announced in April, continued with the announcement at the beginning of the month by the commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (FDS), Mazloum Abdi, their main initiator, of the success of their “first stage”. Launched with external mediation, notably American and French, they aim to resolve the differences between the Kurdish parties in power in Syria (the PYD and the parties allied to it within the TEV-DEM front), and the Kurdish National Council (ENKS, Encûmena Niştimanî ya Kurdî li Sûriyê), some of whose members are based in Turkey, a country still very much opposed to Kurdish unity in Syria... On the 17th, after several rounds of negotiations held in Hassakah, the two camps announced that they had reached an agreement the evening before which was described as a “historical step” for the strengthening of their cooperation. Their joint declaration states a “satisfactory conclusion” of the “first round of negotiations for Kurdish unity”, with the arrival of “a common political vision” on “the basis of” the Duhok agreement of 2014 “on governance and partnership in administration and defence”. The agreement of the 16th should therefore provide the basis for further discussions. However, there still seems to be a long way to go to reach an operational agreement. Indeed, the 2014 agreement provided for equal power-sharing between the two tendencies and the merging of their military forces, points that never became reality... But this time, the discussions were held inside Rojava, which gives more weight to the agreement reached, and on the other hand, the stakes are worth the effort: speaking with one voice could enable the Kurds of Syria to overcome Turkish opposition and finally participate in the discussions on the future of Syria conducted in Geneva under the aegis of the UN. These should resume as soon as the health situation permits, perhaps at the end of August.
Most likely a consequence of the progress in these discussions, on 27th June, for the sixth year exactly after the Amuda incident, YPG apologized to the families of the victims. On 27th June 2013, YPG fighters opened fire on a group of protesters gathered in front of the City Security Office (Asayish) to demand the release of young protesters, killing six people. YPG spokesman Nuri Mahmud, in a video statement, described the event as a “catastrophe”, saying: “As the General Command of the People’s Protection Units, we consider ourselves responsible for this unfortunate event”, and attested to the YPG’s willingness to provide moral and material compensation to the families.
In Afrin, abuses by jihadist mercenaries from Turkey continue. On 1st June, following the discovery during clashes between different factions of a secret prison where dozens of Kurdish women were being held and tortured, a group of displaced women from the region sent an open letter to UN Secretary-General António Gutteres, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, and Syrian International Commission of Inquiry Chairman Paulo Pinheiro. They denounced the serious violations of all international laws perpetrated by these militias, which are “in no way different” from the sexual slavery practiced by ISIS, and called on “the international community and relevant international instruments” to, inter alia, take immediate action to end violations that have continued for more than two years, establish an international committee of inquiry with the legal authority to prosecute the perpetrators, and end the Turkish occupation (Kedistan). Among the prisoners released, some of whom were Yezidi, some were between 13 and 16 years old, others had been kidnapped in Idlib, a region also under Turkish control.
On 5th May, the body of a 16-year-old girl kidnapped on 23rd May in Afrin by pro-Turkish mercenaries of the Sultan Murad Brigade, a jihadist component of the so-called “Syrian National Army”, was found riddled with bullets in a field near Azaz (RojInfo). On the 9th, eleven civilians were in turn abducted in Afrin, eight by mercenaries of the Al-Jabhat al-Shamiya group (two of whom were released for ransom), and three by Sultan Muhammad Fateh. Despite the fear inspired by these groups, the inhabitants of the Mabata district, where the kidnapped people came from, demonstrated against the occupation, as did hundreds of inhabitants of Tel Abyad / Girê Sipî, who demanded the release of civilians, including women, kidnapped there too by the mercenaries (Kurdistan au Féminin). On the 11th in Afrin, an 80-year-old Kurdish man, Aref Khalil, abducted during the looting of his house, was found dead on a lake shore (WKI). On the 18th, another resident of Afrin abducted the previous week was found dead in a field near Azaz. At that date, according to RojInfo, there were at least 500 cases of ransom payments ranging from 3.000 to 100.000 euros, amounts chosen according to the family’s possibilities.
The Turkish military and its jihadist mercenaries also continue to carry out attacks and attempts at ethnic cleansing against settlements just outside their area of control. As they did with the olive groves of Afrin, they have no hesitation in destroying the agricultural resources of an area to force the inhabitants to leave. Thus on 2nd of June, South-west of the Christian town of Tal Tamr, they set fire to the cereal fields of the villages of Amiriya, Arbihin and Lalan with artillery from the M4 motorway and then fired on the civilians trying to put out the fire (ANF). The Hawar News agency estimated at the end of the month that these arson attacks have destroyed more than 1.600 ha (4.000 acres) since January (out of 344.000 ha, i.e. 850.000 acres, for the whole of Rojava). These methods are the very ones used simultaneously by ISIS in Deir Ezzor (WKI).
On the evening of the 23rd, a Turkish drone strike on the village of Helincê, near Kobanê, killed three Kongra Star women, one of whom had participated in the battle of Kobanê against ISIS, and wounded an unknown number of civilians. The attack stirred a demonstration in front of the town’s Russian military base, residents accusing Russia, which has been in control of Kobanê since the Americans left, of having authorised this Turkish strike against civilians (WKI).
Another threat far from having disappeared is ISIS, an organisation against which the FDS announced in a press release on the 4th the launch of a campaign called “Deterring Terrorism”, in cooperation with the international coalition, including Iraqi security forces. In the face of the recent increase in attacks, especially in Deir Ezzor province, the aim is to “hunt down the organisation’s cells in the East of the country, along the Khabur river and the Syrian-Iraqi border” (AFP). The first results appeared on the 6th with the arrest of 17 suspects. The operation is not exempt from internal political considerations, as too much insecurity in Deir Ezzor, which is predominantly Arab, risks undermining the legitimacy of the AANES. The campaign ended after a week, raids on 56 border targets and the capture of “110 terrorists and suspects” (WKI).
On the evening of the 29th, the jihadist detainees at Hassakah mutinied for several hours before the FDS managed to regain control, assisted by American helicopters. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that the prisoners demanded fair trials and the opportunity to see their relatives. Similar movements had already hit the facility in March and again in May.
Finally, on the night of 21st-22nd June, France repatriated from Syria ten children of French jihadists held in AANES-managed camps. The French Foreign Ministry, which did not specify their place of arrival, “thanked” the Kurdish administration for its “cooperation”. Since ISIS lost its territory in March 2019, France has repatriated 28 children. The “United families group” (Collectif Familles Unies), which brings together relatives of these children in France, has once again called for the repatriation of “all the children with their mothers, as requested by the UN, UNICEF, the ICRC, the CNCDH...”. In the Al-Hol camp alone, 517 people, including 371 children, died in 2019 (AFP), and there would still be 900 children left in the three camps in Rojava. The French delegation, led by Eric Chevallier, also discussed the recent intra-Kurdish dialogue (WKI).
This month, anti-Kurdish racism came back to the forefront in Turkey, as June started with the murder of a young Kurd in Ankara: Barış Çakan, 20, was stabbed to death on the 1st by three ultra-nationalists after an altercation caused by music. The Kurdish agency Mezopotamya said he was killed because he was listening to Kurdish music, which prompted the HDP to denounce the “racist spirit” fed by the ruling AKP’s policies. After the event sparked controversy in the country, the young man’s father then presented a different version of the event, which fuelled suspicions of pressure from the authorities (WKI). In this second version, the dispute allegedly broke out because the music played by the three murderers in their car covered the call to prayer... But relatives did indeed witness pressure on the family to change their initial statements (The Guardian). Whatever the truth in this particular case, the fact remains that being Kurdish in Turkey means being discriminated against, as regular incidents over the years have shown. Another Kurd, this time from Istanbul, Mehmet Nuri Deniz, experienced this when, after losing his job due to the epidemic, he came on the 5th of the month to ask for social assistance to pay his rent from the deputy governor’s office of Şişli. After promising him two months’ rent, the office finally sent him only a third of a month, “like a mockery”, he said. When he returned to find out, he was greeted with the words, “Should we give you money? Wherever you come from, go back! Here is a Kurdish man from Bitlis who wants to live at Nişantaş?! Go back to your village, who are you to live at Nişantaş?!”. The tone rose, and Deniz was severely beaten and then expelled by the office security. Armed with a medical report, he went to file a complaint, assisted by lawyer Eren Keskin. On the 15th, the deputy governor’s office in turn filed a complaint against him... (Bianet). Another report, this time from Başkale (Van), came on the 14th: Turkish soldiers killed Emrah Görür, a 20-year-old Kurdish civilian who was irrigating his field, and wounded another person. According to witnesses, Görür was first suffocated with a headscarf before being shot.
As the coronavirus epidemic showed some slowdown at the end of May, Turkey began a phase of normalisation on 1st June, with the reopening of places such as cafés and restaurants and the easing of controls on domestic travel. But this does not mean the end of the epidemic. The virus has continued to spread, particularly in Kurdistan, one of the poorest regions of the country. On June 1st, according to the Ministry of Health, there were 162.120 cases and 4.489 deaths cumulated in Turkey, including 28 new deaths and 1.141 cases in 24 hours. Several professional organisations, including medical ones, have called for the adoption of health laws to prevent a second wave. The government continued to use the virus as a pretext for repression: on 4th June, the Ministry of the Interior indicated that 520 people had been imprisoned, including 11 subsequently arrested, for “provocative” posts on social networks, and that legal or administrative proceedings had been launched against the incredible number of 496.841 people who had not respected the anti-coronavirus measures! On the 10th, the human rights organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement (https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/06/10/turkey-probes-over-doctors-covid-19-comments#) calling on the Turkish authorities to stop investigations against the leaders of the medical associations of Mardin, Şanlıurfa and Van, accused since March of “threatening statements aimed at creating fear and panic among the public”. As a result, many doctors prefer to censor themselves for fear of being charged if they inform the public about COVID-19. On the 12th, the heads of the Medical Chambers of Diyarbakır, Elazığ, Dersim, Bingöl, Urfa and Van indicated that the number of new cases had started to increase again since the normalisation, an information confirmed the next day by the Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca, who announced a record of 1.459 new cases in 24 hours. On the 18th, it was announced that six prisoners had died out of 72 active cases in prisons, and the wearing of masks outside was made compulsory in 50 of the country’s 81 provinces (Bianet).
At the end of the month, concern was expressed openly about the health situation in Kurdistan. On the 25th, the Ahval website painted a particularly bleak picture of the situation in the province of Cizre, where hospitals in various cities, Cizre, Silopi and İdil, were saturated, especially since the Eid gatherings, and where at least 200 houses were under quarantine. The situation was also deteriorating economically, the epidemic hitting a region already devastated by years of war. The President of the Diyarbakir Chamber of Commerce, Mehmet Kaya, drawing conclusions from a survey carried out in the province, called on the 29th for a specific aid plan for the Eastern and South-Eastern Turkish provinces – roughly the Kurdistan region of Turkey. That same day, there were 20.000 active cases of COVID-19 throughout the country, more than 1.000 patients in intensive care, and 1.300 new cases in 24 hours.
At the same time, the Turkish authorities continued their systematic repression of the HDP. On the 4th, two HDP deputies, Leyla Güven (Hakkari) and Musa Farisoğulları (Diyarbakir), as well as CHP deputy Enis Berberoğlu, were dismissed from their mandates when the vice-president of the Parliament Süreyya Sadi Bilgiç, despite protests, read out in session the court decision concerning them. Güven and Farisoğulları had been sentenced to prison terms in the KCK (Union of Kurdistan Communities) case, the indictment against Güven also mentioning her opposition to the invasion of Afrin. Berberoğlu was convicted for his participation in the dissemination of images showing MIT (Turkish secret service) arms deliveries to Syrian rebels. All three were quickly imprisoned, but Berberoğlu was placed under house arrest the next day due to health risks, and Güven, having already served six years in prison for these cases, was released on the 9th. She told Rûdaw that she did not understand how she could be deprived of her mandate on the basis of an indictment prepared by judges who have since been imprisoned on terrorism charges because of their links with preacher Fethullah Gülen…
On the same day, the HDP mayor of Bismil (Diyarbakir), Cemile Eminoğlu, was also incarcerated (Duvar English, Ahval). Before her arrest, Leyla Güven denounced the operation as a “coup d’état” aimed at cutting Kurdish politics from the democratic bases, adding: “We are facing a fascism that targets the graves, the corpses and the existence of the Kurds”. In Diyarbakir, many Kurdish politicians and women activists were arrested in police raids on the 7th and 8th, including Gülistan Nazlıer, from the women’s protection association Rosa and several local leaders of the HDP, DBP and the DISK trade union. On the 9th, six other people were arrested, including a town councillor from Bağlar, Vahit Doğru, several members of the Association for the Support of the Families of Detainees (TUAY-DER), including two of its leaders, Mehmet Emin Güzel, and Şafi Hayme. The premises of the TUAY-DER were also searched and according to his wife, Hayme, she and their daughter were beaten and threatened with weapons by police officers during the arrest. On the 8th, six other members and leaders of the HDP as well as a member of the women’s association Rosa and a trade unionist were imprisoned for “participation in an illegal organization”. Already on 22nd May, 18 people had been imprisoned in connection with an investigation against Rosa. On the 17th, the HDP co-mayors of Ipekyolu (Van) municipality, Azim Yacan and Şehzade Kurt, who were dismissed and replaced by administrators in November 2019, were sentenced to seven years and three months, and six years and three months in prison respectively for “membership of an illegal organization”. Şehzade Kurt was released under house arrest. On the 22nd, early in the morning, 18 people were imprisoned in Batman, including the former HDP mayor of Ikiköprü, Hatice Taş, dismissed and replaced by an administrator in December 2019, as well as a city councillor and several municipal workers. At the same time, the administrator appointed to replace the mayor of Batman took advantage of the renovation of 49 pedestrian crossings in the city to have the Kurdish language signs removed. On the same day, the former co-mayor of Nusaybin, Sara Kaya, dismissed in January 2017, was sentenced to 16 years in prison, including for “participation in an illegal organization”. The prosecutor’s office had asked for life imprisonment... On the 23rd, the two HDP co-mayors of Sarıcan (Elaziğ), Bekir Polat and Canan Tagtekin, as well as a local HDP leader, Mehmet Sari, were imprisoned in a police raid, while the army surrounded the town hall (RojInfo). The vice-governor was appointed administrator.
On the 24th, following a major trial in Malatya in which 79 defendants appeared, 68 Kurdish politicians and activists, including the former mayor of Cizre, Mehmet Zırığ, were sentenced to up to ten years in prison for “membership of a terrorist organization” (T24). Again, the indictment had been prepared by judges who have since been imprisoned for their membership of the Gülenist movement (Rûdaw). At the end of the month, nearly 70 additional people were arrested: 24 people in Batman, including the two co-primaries dismissed from İkiköprü, Hatice Taş and Osman Karabulut, 5 others at Pazarcık (Maraş), and 43 in Diyarbakir, most of them members of the Congress for a Democratic Society (DTK), including Rojbin Çetin (WKI), who was the victim of serious violence during her arrest, as we will see below.
In response to the continuing repression against it, the HDP decided to organise a “March for Democracy and Against the Coup” from 15th to 20th June, during which two processions, initiated from each end of the country, would meet in Ankara, after stages with as many rallies and press conferences along the way. Presenting the details of the operation on the 11th, HDP co-president Pervin Buldan announced that she would lead the procession from Edirne (where former HDP co-presidents Figen Yüksekdağ and Selahattin Demirtaş are imprisoned), while the procession from Hakkari would be led by her male colleague Mithat Sancar. Declaring that the authorities would not succeed in getting them to back down in their struggle for democracy and freedom, Buldan also announced the publication of a document containing the demands of the marchers, including the drafting of a new constitution: “What Turkey needs most now is to change immediately this constitution, which denies people and restricts freedom”. Even before the march began, the governors of the 16 provinces through which it was to pass banned any demonstration. The governor of Tekirdağ explained that the march would threaten public order and weaken Turkey’s fight against the pandemic by violating the directives of social distancing... (Ahval) As the march started on the 15th, police surrounded the HDP’s premises in Edirne, and arrested dozens of participants in Hakkari, Van, Silivri, and Istanbul, sometimes using tear gas and water cannons to try to disperse the gatherings. Edirne’s group arrived in Ankara after visiting İstanbul and Kocaeli. Hakkari’s group reached Ankara via Van, Bitlis, Diyarbakir, Urfa, Antep and Adana. Almost all the events organized during the march took place with a strong police presence, and many marchers were arrested. During the six-day march, according to Garo Paylan, HDP deputy from Diyarbakir, “The force used was worse than ever: soldiers, police, helicopters, firearms everywhere”...
During this month, several cases of police violence or torture in prison emerged, including the assault suffered at her home by the former HDP co-Mayor of Edremit (Van) Rojbin Çetin during her arrest. Before entering her apartment in Diyarbakir, the anti-terrorist police sent in two dogs that bit her legs. According to testimonies, she was then assaulted and then photographed by the police officers partially undressed (Ahval).
In another case, an MHP member posted on 1st June on his Twitter account a photo of a man being tortured in a Diyarbakir police station. The city’s bar association denounced the “policy of impunity” that has allowed torture to become common practice. On the 18th, the Minister of Justice, responding to a question asked seven months earlier by Deputy CHP Sezgin Tanrıkulu, said that 396 prisoners had filed complaints of torture since 1st October 2019, adding that a special unit had been set up to examine these cases within the Prisons Directorate under his ministry. This did not prevent the Chairman of the Parliament’s Human Rights Committee, Hakan Çavuşoğlu, four days later, on the 22nd, from answering a parliamentary question from HDP MP Ömer Gergerlioğlu by stating: “We note with pleasure that there are no complaints of torture or assault and battery in prisons”! At least this question was answered, however unsatisfactory it may be: during the parliamentary session, the Minister of Justice answered only 154 of the 3.553 parliamentary questions received, which says a lot about the role of parliament... On the 23rd, the Diyarbakir branch of the Association for the Defence of Human Rights İHD published a report in which it states that in the last ten years, 690 people have appealed to it about cases of torture, 45% of them in prison, with an increase in number over the last three years (118 complaints between 2010 and 2015, but 217 for 2016-2019)... (Bianet) Torture and violence, especially against women, unfortunately seem to belong to the Turkish state culture, as shown by the figures recently published by the platform “We will stop feminicides” (Kadın Cinayetlerini Durduracağız Platformu – KCDP), which concern both Turkey itself and the territories it occupies in Syria: in Turkey in 2019, at least 474 women were killed, more than half of them in public places, and more than 146 since January 2020. In the occupied areas in Syria, there are 564. However, according to the human rights organisation of northern and eastern Syria, in the regions under Turkish occupation (Jerablus, Azaz, al-Bab, Afrin, Tal-Abyad and Serêkaniyê), more than 1.564 women have been exposed to abuses ranging from kidnapping to murder, including physical violence and rape (Kurdistan to Feminine).
Finally, on a completely different matter, Kurdistan in Turkey was hit by three earthquakes this month: two in Bingöl on the 14th and 15th, which claimed one victim, and a third in Van on the 25th, which slightly injured five people and damaged several houses.
Three different cultural projects that have resulted in very different, but all enriching websites.
Radio Yerevan archives. During those long years when the Kurdish language was totally banned in Turkey, the Kurds of this country could turn to Radio Yerevan, Radyoya Yerevanê, in Armenia, to listen to programmes in their language. There were news programmes, but mostly traditional music. Started in the 1930s, then closed during the Stalin era in 1937, the programmes resumed in 1955 under the direction of Casîmê Celîl. The Kurds were looking forward to these 15 minutes broadcast three times a week... According to the Head of the radio archives, Artur Ispiryan, they contain more than 10.000 recordings of popular Kurdish songs. A copy of the main recordings is kept in the archives of the Kurdish Institute in Paris where they have been digitised, cleaned and catalogued. A selection of these recordings has been broadcast since 2018 by our web radio KURD-1.
For its part, the German-Kurdish Cultural Institute (Deutsch-Kurdisches Kulturinstitut), after having started last April to publish online 900 digitised songs from the archive, has just transferred them on 26 June to a more traditional medium: a four-volume paper collection of transcriptions of the songs, notes and lyrics, thanks to the work carried out over four years by a team led by the musicologist and Kurdish artist Cewad Merwanî. The books are accompanied by a DVD containing the songs.
Youtube channel of the Deutsch-Kurdisches Kulturinstitut: https://www.youtube.com/c/DeutschKurdischesKulturinstitut
Youtube page of songs digitized by the Institute :
“Big Village”. Another publication, this time exclusively on the web, the site of an interactive cinema documentary called “Gewrede”, Kurdish for “Big Village”, by the Kurdish-Dutch director Beri Shalmashi, who worked in collaboration with the historian Lyangelo Vasquez. It brings back to life a place that only exists in the memories of the actors of the Kurdish revolution of the 1980s in Iran, a village created by the PDKI’s pechmergas which ended up bombed by the Iranian army of the Khomeini regime.
The project grew out of a request to Shalmashi to contribute to a podcast on the past lives of Kurdish refugees. She realized that she had no recollection of this period of her life (she was just a baby then) and that she had never asked her father, a former PDKI executive, about it (her mother died years ago). She then started asking questions, collecting documentation, film footage... The project gradually became this interactive documentary where one can find interviews, images, maps, video footage of the time... Shalmashi explains that she didn’t try to really recreate the village, but rather to transmit the spirit of freedom that was breathed there to the new generations.
You can follow the documentary as you would in a movie theatre or on television, while remaining passive. But you can also interact with the virtual village by clicking on a place you want to explore more precisely...
Syriac intangible heritage. This third website is the culmination of a project aimed at safeguarding the intangible heritage represented by the cultural practices of the Syriac community in the Mardin region – and creating awareness about the risks it runs. It makes available to the public a large amount of documentation on this heritage, not only for the benefit of the Syriacs themselves, but because of a cultural wealth that, according to the authors, benefits the entire region: “The region, called Tur Abdin in Syriac tradition, has been home to a multilingual, multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious society. The communities of this society included Muslims, Christians and Yezidis, and throughout history Turkish, Arabic, Kurdish and Syriac were spoken”. For the project’s directors, the aim is to promote this multicultural aspect today in the face of the threats it is submitted to.