Since the reopening of the borders with Iran last May, both Iraq and Kurdistan are experiencing a dramatic increase in the figures of the pandemic... But both the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Iraqi Government are caught between health constraints and economic requirements... On 1st August, the KRG authorised the controlled resumption of international flights to the Region from several countries, while conversely, Turkey stopped flights to the Region. Passengers leaving the Region must show a negative COVID test of less than 48 hours before boarding. As of 4th August, the number of coronavirus cases in Iraqi Kurdistan was 14.816 confirmed cases, 574 deaths and 9.413 recoveries. On the 5th, when the KRG announced 357 new cases (including 218 in Erbil province) and 12 deaths, the Ministry of Health called on cured patients to donate their plasma for patients developing severe forms of the infection. After more than twenty cases appeared, two villages in Akre district (Dohuk) were placed under total confinement. At the same time, Iraq announced more than 5.000 deaths since March, the beginning of the epidemic: it is the highest mortality rate per inhabitant in the Arab world.
On 11th August, 653 new cases were reported in Kurdistan, the highest daily increase ever observed. On the 12th, Suleimaniyeh had 9.500 cases, against 7.300 in Erbil and 1.400 in Dohuk... The increase continued on the 13th with 3.841 new infections, while Iraq as a whole approached 165.000 cases for 5.641 deaths (Kurdistan-24). On the 14th, Kurdistan broke a new “record” with 667 new cases including 411 in Erbil. The total number of cases was then 20.002, including 8.262 hospitalizations. The next day, the figure was almost the same with 658 new cases. The day before, the governor of Erbil had attributed the surge to the lack of compliance with the barrier measures.
On the 21st, the province of Erbil lifted travel restrictions with the other provinces by removing the requirement to obtain prior authorisation on the internet, while maintaining the ban on group tourist travel. Mosques were also allowed to reopen for Friday prayers, but with precautionary measures, as were restaurants (Rûdaw). On the 24th, the KRG Ministry of Health announced the highest mortality since the beginning of the pandemic with 27 deaths and 458 new cases. The rapid increase of cases in the province of Dohuk, ahead of Erbil with 199 cases against 127, caused concern (Kurdistan-24). On the 25th, the WHO opened an office in Kurdistan for faster operations and a better monitoring of the situation. On the same day, the Iraqi Ministry of Health warned of a second epidemic wave, with 4.000 new cases and 77 deaths in 24 hours, for a total of 6.596 deaths in the country. Here too, the worrying evolution of the epidemic situation was attributed to the lack of compliance with barrier measures. The next day, the country had 3.837 new cases and 72 deaths, and on 27th August, 3.651 new cases and 72 deaths.
On 31st August, Kurdistan Region recorded 25 deaths and 591 new cases, including 234 from Dohuk, 169 from Erbil, 115 from Suleimaniyeh and 30 from Halabja. The total number of deaths in the Region at that time was 1.074. With the highest number of cases, Dohuk also had the lowest number of deaths (46), which led WHO to congratulate the authorities of the province (Kurdistan-24).
In this tense sanitary context, discussions continued between the KRG and the federal government to try to reach a budgetary agreement, while Baghdad had suspended payments to Erbil from the federal budget since the end of April... At the end of the first week of the month, Kurdish parliamentarians announced an agreement: in exchange for the revenue from the sale of 250.000 barrels of oil per day and 50% of customs revenue, Baghdad would pay the KRG its share of the federal budget plus the salaries of its civil servants. According to the announcement, a KRG delegation would visit Baghdad during the week of the 10th to continue the discussions. After mid-week statements by both sides highlighting their differences, KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani announced on the 15th that Baghdad had agreed to a “partial restoration” of the KRG’s share of the federal budget: “I am pleased to announce that Baghdad has agreed to pay 320 billion dinars per month [about US$270 million] as a partial restoration of our share of the federal budget”, he said. “We agree on the constitutional rights and duties of both parties, and the dialogue will continue” (Kurdistan-24). Indeed, many other points of disagreement remain, from the control of border crossings to the governance of the disputed territories…
On the 24th, the KRG Prime Minister said in an interview that the agreement with Baghdad was an interim agreement valid for three months only, and that both sides hoped to reach a comprehensive budget agreement after this period. He added that discussions on the “security vacuum” in the disputed territories, exploited by ISIS’s terrorists, were continuing, and that the KRG was also continuing to work towards the implementation of Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution. But on the 30th, the Secretary General of the Pechmergas Ministry, Jabar Yawar, said that while in 2020 there had been nearly 150 ISIS attacks resulting in 650 deaths, while general negotiations were continuing to reach a three-year budget agreement, there was still no timetable for the resumption of security talks... (Kurdistan-24) Earlier this month, the “White Flags”, a terrorist organisation partly originating from ISIS, and also active in the disputed territories, broadcast a video showing the beheading of a Kurdish man kidnapped in 2019, and on the 27th, the bodies of two young Kurds kidnapped the day before by ISIS at a fake checkpoint were found near Khanaqin…
Another point of contention between the KRG and Baghdad concerns the attempts by former Arab settlers from the time of the Ba’thist regime to return to the region. New incidents occurred in early August, when residents of a Kurdish village between Daquq and Kirkuk, Guli Tapa, prevented about 15 Arab families from entering the village. The Iraqi federal police intervened. The mayor of Daquq said that there were still unresolved land disputes between Arabs and Kurds in the area, describing the Arabs concerned as not belonging to the “colonising” groups but originating from Kirkuk. However, since the takeover of these territories on 17th October 2017 by the federal forces, many Kurds have denounced attempts to “re-Arabise” the area. On the 5th, Harem Kamal Agha, deputy and vice-president of the PUK bloc in the Baghdad parliament, declared in Rûdaw that Baghdad was setting up a “new Arabisation process” and that in the face of this, UPK and PDK had to "put their differences aside" in order to act. For his part, Kamal Kirkuki, a member of the KDP political bureau, said the issue had to be resolved at the state level and according to the law and the constitution. The Iraqi presidency has announced the formation of a committee comprising both parliamentarians and members of the government to examine the problem.
In the Kurdistan Region, the non-payment of civil servants’ salaries has led to social movements for several weeks, and there have been recent demonstrations, particularly in Suleimaniyeh. In the north, in Dohuk, other demonstrations have started to protest against a military intervention and Turkish air strikes that have recently become extremely violent and have caused many civilian casualties. The KRG reacted by banning rallies, cutting off the Internet and even “putting pressure” on journalists, Reporters Without Borders said. Based in Kurdistan, the METRO Center for Journalist Rights and Advocacy has recorded 88 violations against 62 journalists and media in the first six months of 2020 and says it has noted a further stiffening since June... (AFP)
The Turkish military strikes and ground movements launched as part of Operation “Claw-Tiger” have indeed taken on increasingly deadly proportions in recent weeks. Although the Turkish General Staff claims to be targeting the PKK, Turkish military activities in Iraqi Kurdistan have resulted in dozens of civilian casualties and forced thousands more to be displaced. After strikes in the previous months had hit Sinjar, where the Yezidi had already been badly hit by ISIS, and the Makhmur refugee camp, Turkey launched multiple strikes in the first week of the month on the province of Suleimaniyeh in the Asos region. In particular, the Turkish army announced that it had detected the presence of the PKK near the town of Mawat, 50 km north of Suleimaniyeh, near the Iranian border, where crops were burned (Al-Monitor, Rûdaw). On the 7th, Turkish planes destroyed a vehicle near the village of Qamesh (Suleimaniyeh), and on the 10th, the PJAK, a Kurdish party in Iran close to the PKK, announced the death of seven of its fighters and two of its supporters in Turkish strikes using drones. Turkey also bombed targets in Dohuk.
But this month’s most serious incident, also on the 7th, occurred when a Turkish drone destroyed a vehicle carrying two senior officers of the Iraqi border guards in the Soran district (Erbil), who were killed with their driver. The attack elicited strong protests from Baghdad. The two officers had just returned from a meeting with PKK fighters following clashes between them and Iraqi forces in the morning. According to local sources, the meeting targeted by the drone had been organised in emergency to try to calm tensions. In reaction, Baghdad cancelled the visit of the Turkish Foreign Minister, scheduled for the 14th, and announced the summoning – for the third time since June – of the Turkish ambassador to Baghdad, Fatih Yildiz. The Iraqi presidency, for its part, denounced “a dangerous violation of Iraq’s sovereignty”, calling on Ankara to “cease all military operations”. On the 13th, Baghdad announced that it had contacted its neighbours (notably Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) and the Arab League "to reach a common position and force Turkey to withdraw" its troops from Iraq. The same day, as a new Turkish strike killed three PKK fighters, Ambassador Yildiz published on Twitter a statement accusing Iraq of "turning a blind eye while members of the terrorist PKK are on its soil" (AFP). The next day, like several Arab countries, France announced its condemnation of the Turkish strike and renewed its support for the respect of Iraqi sovereignty (Asharq Al-Awsat). On the 17th, the PKK announced it had shot down a Turkish helicopter, which crashed along the border, as was confirmed by the mayor of a nearby village. Also according to the PKK, another aircraft was hit ten minutes later and forced to turn back. The PKK also mentioned that one of its commanders was killed along with the two Iraqi officers. As Turkey launched new strikes after these, the Iraqi government, denouncing them, reacted by banning Turkish citizens from entering its territory, cancelling all planned official Turkish visits and deploying new border guard units in the North. On the same day, an Iraqi delegation including representatives of the KRG arrived in Washington, ahead of a meeting between Iraqi Prime Minister al-Kadhimi and US President Donald Trump (WKI).
On the 19th, Turkey carried out new strikes on a village near Akre.
ROJAVA: KIDNAPPING, TORTURE, RAPE, MURDER... EVIDENCE OF THE CRIMES OF THE TURKISH OCCUPATION FORCES IS ACCUMULATING
On 30th July, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham revealed that the US Treasury Department had authorised a contract between the Kurdish-dominated Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria (AANES) of the Party of Democratic Unity (PYD) and a little-known US oil company, Delta Crescent Energy. It is no coincidence that Graham made the announcement: he was the one who persuaded the American president last October to maintain American troops east of the Euphrates, in Hassakah and Deir Ezzor, “where the oil is”, in the words of Donald Trump (Kurdistan-24). The agreement provides for the supply of two refineries capable of producing 20.000 barrels a day, which will meet the needs of the AANES-administered region (Syria’s current production is 60.000 barrels, compared with 360.000 before the civil war). Such an agreement would not have been possible without the State Department’s approval, and by saying that “reaching an agreement has taken a little longer than we had hoped”, Mike Pompeo implied that his department had played a role in its negotiation. While officially it is a question of avoiding the risk of ISIS regaining control of these oil fields, it is likely that by thus prohibiting access to the oil fields by the Damascus regime and its Russian and Iranian allies, the US administration will be able to try to impose a military break with Iran and its militias in Damascus (Asharq al-Awsat).
An AANES official called the agreement a mark of “recognition” by the United States, with “immense political significance”, and it is clear that it puts the Kurdish administration, for a while time, in a better position to negotiate its future with Damascus. Conversely, the regime was quick to denounce on 2nd August an “agreement signed by the SDF militia and a US oil company to steal Syrian oil [...] with the support of the US administration”, “an attack on Syrian sovereignty”. The next day, as could be expected, Ankara followed suit, denouncing an “unacceptable” agreement that amounts to “financing terrorism”. On the 13th, in response to criticism, the US envoy to Syria, Jim Jeffrey, said at a press conference that the US would not benefit from Syrian oil and that “[...] the people of North-East Syria control the oil region; no one else”, adding: “The only thing we have done is to grant a licence to this company” to escape the sanctions imposed on the regime (AFP).
On the 26th, Russia, Turkey and Iran issued a joint statement denouncing the agreement again. To ease tensions with Russia, an AANES delegation led by Ilham Ahmed visited Moscow the same day and met several officials including Foreign Minister Serge Lavrov (WKI). On the ground, tension was palpable throughout the month: on the 17th, a joint patrol of the SDF and the US military killed a Syrian soldier and wounded another near Qamishli when returning fire from Syrian military. This is only the latest of several recent incidents. At the end of the month, a collision caused by a Russian column injured a GI in a US patrol. Again, this incident followed several others.
If the conclusion of this oil agreement strengthens the position of the Autonomous Administration of Rojava, it still faces international exclusion. Regarding the ongoing peace negotiations under the aegis of the UN, Sinam Mohamad complained on the 21st in the National Interest that AANES had not received an invitation for the “Constitutional Committee” in Geneva, scheduled for the 24th: “We represent an important part of Syria and should have a say in the future of the country” she told. One third of the Committee is appointed by the regime, one third by the United Nations and the third one by an opposition coalition, supported by Turkey. According to Mohamad, there have indeed been discussions between UN representatives and several civil society organisations based in the AANES, but to no avail. Moreover, Damascus is blocking almost all progress. This meeting is the first since the one in November 2019, which ended without any significant advance.
At the same time, the jihadist factions used as mercenaries by Turkey continued their attacks throughout the month against Kurdish villages on the borders of the so-called “security zone” they control, particularly near Girê Spî. At the end of July, one civilian was wounded and several houses damaged, then new attacks hit Girê Spî on the 13th and Manbij on the 16th, while Turkish drones wounded two civilians near Ain Issa. AANES issued a statement criticising Russia for not playing its role as guarantor of the ceasefire with Turkey (WKI). Furthermore, pro-Turkish groups controlling the Alouk pumping station continued to regularly cut off drinking water to the inhabitants. On the 14th, the head of the Hassakah water agency, Mahmoud Ukla, accused the “Turkish occupation forces and their mercenaries [of...] endangering the lives of a million people”. According to a UN report, the water supply from the plant, which supplies the town of Hassakah and the Al-Hol camp, among others, was interrupted at least 12 times between February and July. According to the agreement negotiated under Russian mediation, in exchange for Alouk water, the Kurds provide electricity to the territories occupied by Turkey, but the pro-Turkish factions keep cutting off the water under the pretext of asking for more electricity. At the same time, Turkey has reduced the flow of the Euphrates, while the risk of a pandemic requires more washing and cleaning... (Kurdistan-24). Finally, after interminable negotiations, the Kurds finally retaliated on the 13th by cutting electricity to the territories occupied by Turkey. The latter is clearly trying to use water to destabilise the AANES among the inhabitants (AFP). Damascus accused Ankara on 24th of using water as “a weapon against Syrian civilians”. The UN had warned as early as March about serious health consequences. On the 25th, AFP published several testimonies of Hassakah inhabitants who, after 21 days without water during August, accused Turkey of “strangling” them.
On the 21st, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem II Karim declared in an open letter to the UN Secretary General: “These voluntary cuts in drinking water are human rights violations. [...] This unethical act is especially harmful to children, the elderly and the vulnerable, in a country that is already suffering greatly from the Covid-19 pandemic. The fact is keeps continuing makes it a crime against humanity” (La Libre Belgique).
In fact, the pandemic, after several months during which the Rojava had managed to isolate itself quite effectively, finally made its way into the territory, affecting an estimated 30 people on 2nd August. AANES pointed out the responsibility of the regime, which it accuses of not having taken the necessary precautionary measures with regard to the passengers arriving at Qamishlo airport, which it controls (WKI). In other provinces of Syria, many cases were indeed found to involve travellers returning from the capital... AANES tried to avoid further spread by restricting travel with Iraq and territories controlled by the regime and then imposing a 10-day confinement from 31st July, closing restaurants and banning collective prayers in mosques. But after a first explosion of cases on 1st August, 12 new cases and 2 deaths were announced in a single day, on the 7th, in the Jezira region, bringing the number of cases to 66 with 3 deaths. The situation is extremely worrying in camps such as Al-Hol, where members of ISIS are literally crammed together and cannot apply (or refuse) the distancing measures (Rûdaw). On the 18th, the number of confirmed cases reached 210 with 14 deaths, while Damascus announced 1.677 cases in the territories under its control (WKI), a number probably very underestimated according to the UN: already at the beginning of August, the deputy director of health for Damascus area mentioned around 100 deaths per day and deducted 100. On the 30th, Le Monde accused the regime of remaining “in denial” after inter-Syrian peace talks were nearly interrupted on the 24th when four members of the Damascus delegation tested positive on their arrival in Geneva! At that time, there were 394 confirmed cases in Rojava. An MSF doctor pointed out that out of the limited number of screening tests that are carried out, half of them come back positive, indicating a very high transmission rate. Syria and Rojava are clearly at risk of a serious crisis.
Turkey and its Syrian mercenaries do not limit their abuses against civilians to drone strikes, attacks on villages and water cuts. Increasingly worrying reports and testimonies are accumulating about the situation in Afrin and its region, which has been controlled by these groups for the past two years. As a result of the work of the Missing Afrin Women Project, which compiles information on violations affecting women in Afrin from media reports or local associations, it can no longer be ignored that since 2018, at least 161 women and girls, sometimes very young, have been abducted by these criminals to be tortured, raped and sometimes murdered or to die from their bruises. Information is difficult to obtain, as families often remain silent for fear of reprisals, and outside observers or journalists are forbidden in the area. However, the data obtained gives a frightening picture of the situation. The figure of 161 covers cases where the name of the victim is known, but local associations speak of several hundred kidnappings. According to Kurdistan au Féminin, out of the 132 cases for which the kidnappers are armed groups or belong to the so-called “security forces” installed by Turkey, 34 are attributed to the military police, 17 to the civil police and 15 to the Turkish military police and the al-Hamza Division. One female survivor testified to the almost systematic rape of the youngest girls: “Many of those abducted committed suicide and others were killed in cold blood and their bodies thrown into the forests near the villages of Azaz, Al-Bab, Afrin and Jerablous”. Several testimonies, some of them broadcast on video, corroborate each other and refer to the discovery at the end of May, after intra-Jihadist clashes in Afrin, of the secret prison where the al-Hamza Division kept its victims…
The US State Department finally took alarm at the extreme gravity of the acts described in the information received, which is echoed in a report made public on 4th August (Operation Inherent Resolve, Lead Inspector General Report to the United States Congress, April 1, 2020-June 30, 2020, (https://media.defense.gov/2020/Aug/04/2002470215/-1/-1/1/LEAD%20INSPECTOR%20GENERAL%20FOR%20OPERATION%20INHERENT%20RESOLVE%20APRIL%201,%202020%20-%20JUNE%2030,%202020.PDF). Significantly, the investigators were told there was no evidence that the “Interim Syrian Government”, the political entity used by Turkey as a cover for its occupation, had attempted in any way to investigate on those responsible for these despicable acts. But the aforementioned report also notes that the United States did not punish these groups for their abuses either. Regarding Afrin, the State Department said that, not being present on the ground, it could not directly confirm information on abuses against women, but that “many of them appear credible” (Al-Monitor). Meghan Bodette, founder of the Missing Afrin Women Project, denounced on Kurdistan-24 the fact that not only is the international community turning a blind eye and remaining silent on Turkish abuses in Syria, but that many states continue to assist this country militarily as a member of NATO.
The list of Turkish exactions in Syria, however, does not end here. Kurdistan au Féminin reported on the 5th a piece of news from ANHA that a 16-year-old Kurdish teenager, Khalil Nihad Sheikho, from Afrin, had been shot and wounded by Turkish gendarmes while trying to flee to Turkey. He was hospitalised on the Turkish side in Kilis and died in hospital. When his relatives recovered his body, they found, as a video shows, that his organs had been stolen. On the 15th, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), expressed in a tweet its grave concern about the fate of the Kurdish Christian teacher Radwan Muhammad, imprisoned by the pro-Turkish faction Failaq Al-Sham and accused of apostasy: “USCIRF calls on Turkey to intervene, to order its allies to release Radwan, and to prevent them from committing such acts”. USCIRF leader Nadine Maenza told Kurdistan-24: “We are concerned about these reports of apostasy charges in Afrin. There is further evidence that the conditions of religious freedom have changed drastically in the areas that Turkey has occupied, compared to the period when they were governed by the AANES”. The teacher is facing execution; Failaq Al-Sham, affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood so dear to the Turkish president, is already involved in multiple abuses in Afrin, such as the assassination of a Yezidi, Nuri Jammu Omar Sharaf, on 13th August, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR): Sharaf was shot dead for refusing to give money to the members of the group who had forced his door.
The Yezidi are still particularly targeted by pro-Turkish jihadist or Islamist groups, who are thus fulfilling the programme of demographic change desired by their Turkish masters. The Human Rights Organisation of Afrin has reported that mercenaries have colonised a vast area stretching from the village of Tirindê in central Afrin to the province of Shêrawa, and during the first fortnight of August set up cantonments for them and their families in several Yezidi villages such as Bafîlonê (Shera) and Afraza (Mabata), after having expelled their inhabitants. In Jindires, members of the Nureddin Zenki faction sold a whole street to Ahrar Al-Sharkiya for US$25.000. And besides, the felling of olive trees and the burning of farmland still goes on… (RojInfo).
The situation is unprecedented: a NATO member country is directly covering up or carrying out crimes against humanity of the kind ISIS committed, while using its membership of the Alliance to silence its “allies” and continue to act with impunity. After all the crimes committed on its own territory, the Turkish government is now exporting them to the territories it has conquered. What La Libre Belgique wrote this month about the water cuts East of the Euphrates can also be applied to all the other abuses we have just reported: “This is another crime by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan around its southern borders for which the West turns a blind eye”. Have we entered a new period of “crime of silence”?
While the Turkish government is considering leaving the Istanbul Convention protecting women’s rights, Turkey is the target of increasing criticism for its inaction in this regard and has even been compared by some groups to a “women’s slaughterhouse”. For example, the platform We Will Stop Femicide (KCDP) in early August recorded at least 36 murders of women during July, compared to 26 in June, plus 11 “suspicious” deaths. According to the group’s report, 92% of the murdered women were victims of their husbands, friends or former companions. Some cases are hardly believable, such as the one of this young Yezidi woman kidnapped at 16 years old in Shengal (Sinjar, Iraq) during the genocide of 2014, and found at the beginning of August, after six years of ordeal, in the house of a member of ISIS in Ankara! Bought on the internet, Zozan was delivered thanks to the action of her family, refugees in Australia. Reduced to slavery, suffering from malnutrition, she had been constantly tortured and raped (Duvar).
Such a story speaks volumes about the complacency of the current Turkish authorities towards ISIS and anti-women abuses. They do not hesitate to resort to the weapon of rape themselves, as shown by the information coming from the areas under Turkish occupation in Rojava. But these methods are neither recent nor limited to the occupied territories outside: on the 18th, a young Kurdish girl, Ipek Er, kidnapped and raped for twenty days by a Turkish army sergeant, Musa Orhan, died in Batman hospital after a suicide attempt. She left a letter incriminating her torturer and the Mezopotamya agency has made public the report of the forensic medical institute attesting to the rape. Arrested after a complaint from the family, although accused of “qualified sexual abuse”, Orhan, who denied everything, was... released six days after his imprisonment. The case was made confidential by order. As for the Batman Prosecutor General, he opened an investigation... against the publisher of the newspaper Jiyan Haber, İdris Yayla, for publishing information about the case!
On the 5th, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published a report drawn up following the visit of a delegation to Turkey from 6th to 17th May 2019. The delegation visited numerous prisons, police stations and gendarmerie barracks, including the prison island of Imralı, where the historical PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and three co-prisoners are incarcerated. While the CPT noted “generally satisfactory” conditions of detention for the co-detainees, it also stated that it had “recorded [in the other prisons visited] a considerable number of allegations of excessive use of force and/or physical ill-treatment by police officers and gendarmes”. The report “reiterates” the wish that “a clear and firm message of ‘zero tolerance’ of ill-treatment be sent to all law enforcement officials by the highest political level, namely the President of the Republic”, who is thus directly taken to task... The CPT also calls upon Ankara to allow visits by relatives and lawyers of the detainees of Imralı. Indeed, most of the hundreds of requests filed by Öcalan’s lawyers to meet with their client no longer even receive a response from the court, and their last request at the end of July was rejected. Their last visit was more than a year ago (7th August 2019), and that of the prisoner’s family six months ago (March 2020). The prisoner had previously remained isolated for more than eight years... (AFP)
The announcement on 27th August by the People’s Law Firm of the death in an Istanbul hospital of Kurdish lawyer Ebru Timtik, after 238 days on hunger strike, sent shockwaves throughout Turkey and internationally. Tried in September 2018 along with 18 other lawyers including her younger sister Barkin, Timtik was sentenced to more than 13 years in prison for “membership of a terrorist organisation”. During the preliminary hearings, the judges had initially decided to release the defendants until the trial, but reversed their decision the day after hearing an anonymous witness. In reality, her trial had been totally fabricated and was aimed at her work as a lawyer and her progressive convictions: originally from Dersim province, she had defended among others several Kurdish dissidents. On hunger strike for 238 days to demand a fair trial, Timtik was transferred to hospital on 30th July after her condition worsened.
On 27th August, dozens of people gathered in front of the forensic institute where her body had been brought, and rallies were also held in front of Turkish embassies across Europe. The next day, the President of the “Conférence des Bâtonniers” (Conference of the Bar presidents), Hélène Fontaine, paid homage to him during the organisation’s summer school, saying: “There are no borders when you are a lawyer”. A member of the Progressive Lawyers’ Association (ÇHD), Timtik accompanied his fellow lawyer, Aytac Ünsal, also a member of the ÇHD, on hunger strike; he is still detained in hospital. In February 2020, Turkey became the country with the highest number of imprisoned lawyers: 411 convicted between 2016 and 2020 according to Arrested Lawyers. Judges who did not deliver the “right” verdicts are also charged and imprisoned.
In July, a court in Istanbul rejected Timtik’s release despite the fact that the application was accompanied by medical reports warning of the risk to his life. This refusal undoubtedly caused the death of the lawyer. The anger provoked by this preventable death was all the greater because just a few days before, Sergeant Musa Orhan, previously mentioned, was released six days after his imprisonment despite medical reports establishing his guilt in the rape of his victim and then her suicide.
On the 3rd, a Turkish official warned that the pandemic was likely to be “much worse” in the south, i.e. in the Kurdish regions. Officially, the COVID has already caused 5.765 deaths, but this figure seems to be very underestimated and contested in particular by the Union of Chambers of Physicians of Turkey as well as by the Turkish opposition parties.
The pro-Kurdish opposition is still the victim of systematic repression by the government. In another judicial scandal, the individual who had attacked an HDP office in Istanbul at the end of July was released on the 10th, while the police imprisoned several members of the HDP youth. In Van and Urfa, provincial governors again banned political activities such as marches, meetings and press conferences. On the 14th, other HDP members were arrested, eight in Hakkari, including the head of the human rights association IHD for Semdinli, four in Adana, five in Sirnak, an HDP official at Aydın and the HDP co-president for Muş, Abdulbari Yiğit. Five other people were also arrested in Bursa for messages on social networks. On the 18th, the former mayor of the district of Yenişehir in Diyarbakir, Ibrahim Çijek, elected in March 2019 but prevented from taking up his post, then replaced by a pro-AKP administrator, was arrested. Finally, on the 31st, the HDP co-chair for the district of Bağlar in Diyarbakir, Fatma Kavmaz, was imprisoned on charges of “membership in a terrorist organisation”. On the 30th, two individuals perpetrated another attack on an HDP office, this time in Ankara (WKI).
On the 22nd, during a visit to Van, former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who left the AKP to create his own party, the “Party of the Future”, said: “If the Kurds are unhappy, none of us can be at peace”. Two days later, he received a scathing response from HDP Co-Chair Pervin Buldan from Bursa, where she was speaking at the party’s “Programme of Struggle for Democracy”: “Kurdish votes are not for sale”, she said. “While you do not say a single word when Selahattin Demirtas, Figen Yüksekdag, Idris Baluken, Sebahat Tuncel, Gültan Kisanak and dozens of other friends of mine whom I cannot name all are imprisoned, while you say nothing to those who run this country with administrators, while you have nothing to say to those who have turned this country into a country of isolation, you come here to talk about the Kurdish question! [...] The Kurdish votes are not for sale. The Kurdish votes are the votes of people who are fed up with all your lies and your oppressive mentality based on the denial [of their existence]”. Buldan also referred to the government’s announcement of the discovery of natural gas in the Black Sea: “They will make new tenders [...] and make the society pay for the cost of these gas reserves.... Then] they will transfer the revenues to their own companies and to pro-government companies” (Bianet).
In addition, racist attacks against Kurds, but also against all “deviant” identities, are increasing. A young man from Kars called Osman Özçalımlı, who was doing his military service in Izmir, died suspiciously after repeatedly informing his family and friends that he was threatened and accused of being a “traitor to the homeland” because he was a Kurd. The versions of his death are contradictory, falling from a window or having a heart attack. The family of Özçalımlı refused the presence of soldiers and the Turkish flag on his coffin at the funeral. Suspicious deaths of Kurdish conscripts are frequent; they are presented to the families as “accidental deaths” or “suicides”. The human rights association Mazlum-Der has calculated that 90% of conscript “suicides” involve Kurds...
After the state flooding of the historic Kurdish town of Hasankeyf, another project has aroused the opposition of the inhabitants of Dersim: the tourist development project of the Munzur springs, which are sacred to the Alevis, with bridges and car parks. Indignation was aroused as much by the content of the project as by the fact that it had been prepared without any consultation. Other victims of the attacks on Kurdish culture were the university departments of Kurmancî or Zazakî language and literature, five of which had been opened as a result of the political détente between 2011 and 2012 in four provinces with a Kurdish majority. They had attracted large numbers of students, until the government resumed its repression of the Kurdish language and culture. But after the collapse of the “peace process” in 2015, the enrollment numbers declined dramatically as young Kurds in Turkey worried about the lack of career prospects (Ahval). The latest blow to these university courses is the recent ban on teaching or writing master’s theses in Kurmancî or Zazakî: the Turkish language is being imposed everywhere.
The Covid-19 pandemic has continued to spread in Iran although the authorities continue to try to conceal its extent. On 1st August, according to the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) estimates, the virus killed more than 80.700 people in 347 cities across the country. Among the regional figures on that date were: 3.205 new cases in Lorestan, 2.412 in Western Azerbaijan and 1.600 in Kurdistan. By the 9th, the number of deaths calculated by the PMOI had risen to more than 85.500 in 373 cities, compared to an official figure of only 14.400. Various officials admitted at that time that the health system was overwhelmed, particularly the intensive care units. For example, Minou Mehraz, from the scientific committee of the National Coronavirus Control Centre, told the IRNA agency that Khomeiny hospital was receiving 120 coronavirus patients a day. The next day, the BBC published data obtained from an anonymous source close to the Ministry of Health, which gave a death toll of 42.000. This is still probably an underestimate as it takes in accounts the number of deaths in hospital only. Moreover, BBC data from the 10th placed the first case on January 22nd, almost one month before the “official” start of the epidemic. As a result, all the single-digit numbers of deaths published by Tehran up to the end of February became difficult to accept... The credibility of the PMOI estimates, which are based on the compilation of various provincial data that are themselves published, was thus strengthened.
President Rouhani again blamed the Iranians for their negligence, but it could be argued that by hiding the seriousness of the situation from them, the regime has hardly encouraged them to be cautious... Against the advice of health officials, Rouhani also reiterated the need to maintain Moharram’s mourning ceremonies, even if it meant reducing the number of participants, while admitting that the epidemic “could continue for another six months or even a year” (NCRI).
On 24th August, an appeal signed by many academics, including linguist Noam Chomsky and sociologist Ismail Beşikçi, called for the annulment of Zara Mohammadi’s conviction and her outright acquittal. Co-founder of the Nojin cultural association, Mohammadi, accused of constituting a “danger to national security”, was sentenced on 14th July to ten years in prison by an “Islamic Revolutionary Court” for teaching the Kurdish language to children. Based on several articles of the Iranian constitution, the petition also calls for an end to Iran’s discriminatory policy against languages other than Persian. The text first notes that the “Islamic Revolutionary Courts” are in no way constitutional, since according to Article 61 of the Constitution, “the judicial power is exercised by the Public Courts of Justice”. On the other hand, Article 15 explicitly authorises the teaching of non-Persian local languages. This makes the verdict against Mohammadi “a clear example of the Islamic Republic’s policy of duplicity towards non-Persian languages since the Islamic Revolution of 1979” (Kurdistan-24).
At the beginning of August, human rights activists in Iran for the first time launched a Twitter campaign in support of kolbars, those Kurdish porters who risk their lives to transport goods between Iran and Iraq. The regime’s repressive forces do not hesitate to shoot them, even though most of them are unarmed. In 2019 alone, at least 76 were killed and 176 wounded, and between 2015 and 2019 there were 368 killed and 595 wounded, 77% of them shot dead... The trigger for this campaign was two events. Firstly, the announcement on 30th July of the death of a young kolbar, Vazir Mohammadi, shot dead near Nowsud (Kermanshah) when his group was ambushed by border guards. Then, the previous Twitter campaign, launched on 14th July with the hashtag “Don’t kill” to denounce the confirmation of the death sentences of three young protesters from the November demonstrations, had been a huge success with more than 10 million re-tweets. The activists therefore decided to devote the next campaign to kolbars. In addition, the Hengaw organisation reported on 1st August that six new kolbars had been killed and 14 others injured in Iran in July.
Launched on Twitter on the 2nd at 9.30 pm with the hashtag “Don’t kill kolbars”, the campaign generated more than 120.000 messages in two days. It should be noted that an identical campaign on the sukhtbars of Baluchistan, the counterparts of the Kurdish kolbars, was launched at the same time.
Despite the campaign, the killings unfortunately continued. On the 4th, another porter was shot and another wounded on the 7th, again near Nowsud. Many horses and loads were also confiscated. On the 13th, a 17-year-old kolbar was killed near Marivan, another in Piranshahr, and a third on the 15th in an attack on a group near Bradost in which two others were injured. On the same day, two businessmen working with kolbars were killed when their vehicle was ambushed by Iranian soldiers near Zanjan. The list unfortunately continues until the end of the month, with eight other porters injured in the last week of August, four more in Nowsud, four more in Chaldiran, Piranshahr and Sardasht. Finally, three traders using the services of kolbars were arrested in Marivan (WKI). In addition, the authorities do not hesitate to repress any support for the kolbars. For example, a group of 10 activists who had gathered peacefully in front of the office of the governor of Baneh in September 2017 to protest against the killing of kolbars by border guards were sentenced to a total of 30 months in prison, 250 lashes and a fine of 250 million tomans [€10,600] (CSDHI, Radio Farda).
At the same time, the Iranian regime continued its state terrorism by using drones and artillery to strike on 3rd August at targets belonging to opposition Iranian Kurdish parties in Kurdistan of Iraq. According to Rûdaw, the PDKI’s pechmergas command, located near the border, was hit but suffered no casualties. Six weeks ago, Iranian artillery had already struck the border region of Haji Omran in coordination with Turkish drones.
Inside Iran, the campaign of repression against all Kurdish political activity also continued with imprisonments and convictions. Early this month trade union activist Bakhtyar Rahimi was sentenced in Marivan to two years in prison for “collusion” against the Islamic Republic. In Sanandaj, five activists received prison sentences of two months to a year for “cooperation with a political party” against the state. Among them, Tariq Rahimpour received a one-year firm and four years suspended sentence. In addition, the KMMK Human Rights Association of Kurdistan reported that Etelaat (Iranian Intelligence) was putting pressure on the family of activist Afsheen Islamullah, resident in the United States but imprisoned during his last visit to his family in July and held incommunicado since then (WKI).
On May 3rd, Amnesty International issued an alert requesting urgent action regarding the Kurdish prisoner Arsalan Khodkam. Sentenced to death on 14th July 2018 after a trial lasting just 30 minutes based on confessions obtained under torture, Khodkam might be executed at any time. A native of Urumieh, he was convicted of “spying” for the PDKI, a political party that he said he left in the 1980s before joining the pasdaran as a non-commissioned officer. Tortured, he only signed a confession written for him when his wife and son were in turn threatened with torture. Amnesty reports that he denies any espionage, admitting that he once informed a relative of his wife that the pasdaran were preparing actions against peaceful demonstrators in Baneh in April 2018 (Rûdaw).
In Kamyaran, the death sentence of Hayder Qurbani, pronounced in October 2015 for “armed struggle against the Islamic Republic” was confirmed on the 4th. Qurbani is accused of participating in an attack against the pasdaran. In Urumieh, Kurdish activist Hamid Abdi was sentenced to 15 years in prison for “undermining national security” and “assistance to a Kurdish opposition party”. In Piranshahr, two Kurds arrested last April, Nawed Mohamadi and Khalid Mohamadi, were sentenced to seven years in prison for “espionage for the benefit of enemy states”. On the 5th, three Kurds from Dalahu (Kermanshah) were arrested. On the 9th, a 17-year-old Kurdish man, Parsa Rostami, was arrested in Paveh: according to KMMK, being a member of a Kurdish opposition party, he was arrested on his return to Iran. In Saqqez, five Kurds, including three environmentalists, were arrested, as well as a lawyer protesting against his client’s death sentence (WKI).
During the second week of August, several new arrests took place, one person in Saqqez and one in Oshnavieh on the 12th by the Etelaat, another in Bokan. In Sanandaj, the court confirmed the five-year sentence imposed on environmental activist Hajar Saedi. According to KMMK, this sentence is to be carried out in six years, and the convicted woman must until then report every four months to the local Etelaat office. In Tehran, the Kurdish political prisoner Arash Nasri, arrested in March 2019, was sentenced to 17 years in prison for “bearing arms against the state” and “illegal travel”. In the last week of the month, eight new Kurdish activists were arrested: four Kurds from Sardasht on the 27th, accused of “assisting Kurdish opposition parties”, a man from Javanrud and two Christian Kurds from Sardasht on the 29th. KMMK also reported the kidnapping of Khabat Kafakhari in Sanandaj by unknown persons allegedly belonging to the Security Services, who had contacted him before. Three other Kurds were also arrested, two in Marivan and one in Baneh (WKI).
On the 12th, activist Nasrin Sotoudeh announced in a letter to her lawyer that she was going on hunger strike to protest against “the injustice and illegal conditions to which political prisoners are subjected” in Iran, conditions made worse by the coronavirus epidemic. Arrested in September 2010 for taking part in the mass protests following the 2009 presidential elections, Sotoudeh was sentenced to 11 years in prison for “insulting the Supreme Leader” before her sentence was reduced to six years. Released in September 2018 after three years in prison, she was re-arrested in June 2019 (MEMO - Middle East Monitor).
At the end of the month, several Kurdish farmers in Iraq sounded the alarm after Iran interrupted the flow of the Little Zab and Sirwan rivers when it launched a major irrigation project in its western provinces. These rivers feed the Dokan and Derbandikhan reservoirs, which irrigate many plots of land and provide work for hundreds of farmers. On the 23rd, several of them said they feared a disaster, as the water level had been dropping for almost a week. The head of the Dams directorate of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Akram Ahmed, told Rudaw that a water shortage could affect 90.000 people in the region, not only farmers, but also owners of fish farms, of which there are hundreds and which demand a lot of water.
• The Kurdish language will soon be available on Microsoft Translator.
Indeed, on 20 August, Microsoft announced that it would quickly add the two Kurdish dialects, Kurmancî (Kurmandji) and Soranî, to its Microsoft Translator service. These two dialects are already available or will soon be available in the Microsoft Translator application, in MS Office and in the Bing translation service. Microsoft has also indicated that users of Azure Cognitive Services Translator will have translation between these dialects and more than 70 languages in their applications, websites and other tools. In particular, this new availability paves the way for easier Kurdish localizations for websites.
Kurmancî is already available since February 2016 in Google translator. To date, Soranî is still not there, but Kurdish volunteers have announced that they are working to have it included. Gradually, the different Kurdish dialects are becoming more visible online, which in turn makes it easier for Kurdish speakers to use the Internet.
• Recently published
The human rights organisation Amnesty International has just published a 57-page report (in English) entitled Legacy of Terror, The Plight of Yezidi Child Survivors of Isis: "Legacy of Terror, The Plight of Yezidi Child Survivors of Isis", which gives an account of the terrible condition of the children who were abducted and imprisoned by ISIS in August 2014. Amnesty’s report details how these children remain deeply traumatised by what they experienced. They suffered indoctrination, sexual abuse, torture and malnutrition, slavery... Boys were forcibly incorporated into the army of the “Caliphate” while girls were “married”, also by force, to jihadist fighters. All of them had to drop out of school to follow the “teaching” of the jihadists, who forced them to abandon their faith for Islam and their language, Kurmancî Kurdish, for Arabic. Nearly 10,000 men and children were murdered and 7,000 women abducted. More than 70 mass graves were found after the retreat of the jihadist organisation. The UN has recognised ISIS’s treatment of the Yezidi as genocide.
But the suffering of Yezidi children did not always end with their release, says the Amnesty report: many of them discovered that their home communities, starting with their own families, were not ready to accept what they had experienced. As for the children born to Yezidi captives of jihadi fathers, the report explicitly states that “they have been largely denied a place in the Yezidi community” following the decision of the Yezidi Supreme Council to reject them on the basis that their parents are not both Yezidi. Moreover, the report notes, Iraqi law “provides that a child of an unknown or Muslim father must be registered as a Muslim”, which makes it even more difficult for him to be accepted in the community... Some mothers were forced to abandon their child in order to return to their family, while others made the opposite choice: to keep their child and live outside the community. Some feel reduced to suicide. As an Amnesty official told the Irish Times, “these women were enslaved, tortured and subjected to sexual violence. They should not continue to be punished”.