With a fall of 33% since January, the Turkish lira, continuing its collapse, has reached the historically low rate of 10 for one euro. Worried foreign investors continued to pull out of the Turkish market, while at home, wealthier citizens amplified the fall by buying dollars to protect their savings (Al-Monitor). By opposing the raising of interest rates, probably for religious reasons, the Turkish president has long limited the possibilities of fighting against an economic deterioration accentuated by the expansion of the pandemic. Then, making one of the 180° turns of which he has the secret, he dismissed the director of the central bank on 7, replacing him by Naci Agbal, his former finance minister (2015-2018). The next day, the current Minister of Finance (and son-in-law of the President), Berat Albayrak, until then widely considered as his designated successor, announced by a simple post on Instagram his resignation for "health reasons". The relations between Albayrak and Agbal are notoriously execrable... These decisions have allowed a slight temporary rise in the Turkish lira. On the 10th, TurkStat published unconvincing figures for unemployment in August, contested the next day by the DISK union in its own report. The same day, a MetroPoll indicated that in the event of immediate elections, the AKP would get less than 30% of the votes (Bianet).
Worried, the government has become increasingly nervous about the economy... On the 12th, the HDP deputy from Şırnak, Hüseyin Kaçmaz, submitted a question to parliament concerning a citizen arrested for criticising the government’s economic policy in a television interview. Kaçmaz recalled that, according to Article 26 of the constitution, “everyone has the right to express and disseminate his thoughts and opinions by word, in writing, by image or by other means, individually or collectively”, while more than 100.000 investigations have been launched for criticising the Turkish president, and 30.000 people are being prosecuted for the same reason... (Bianet). On the 19th, when the Central Bank carried out its biggest interest rate hike in two years, the pound immediately rose by 2% against the dollar (Al-Monitor): for investors, it was finally back to a sensible monetary policy...
At the same time, the Turkish government’s handling of the COVID-19 epidemic has come under increasing criticism since the Minister of Health admitted at the end of September that since 29 July he had not published all the figures at his disposal, but only the symptomatic cases, under the term “patients”. According to a document revealed by CHP deputy Murat Emir (Kemalist opposition), the number of cases actually recorded on 10 September reached 29.377, twenty times more than the official number, 1.512! This way of counting had allowed the government to conceal the real extent of the epidemic. On 14 November, the official figures became even less credible when Istanbul’s CHP mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu, reported that the city had registered 164 deaths caused by an “infectious disease” while the ministry reported only 92 deaths due to COVID-19 for the whole country! On 20 November, the official number of deaths exceeded 12.000, the highest since the first case in March. As the ministry did not report the total number of cases, the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) published its own figures: more than 47.000 deaths. Then on the 23rd, İmamoğlu compared the number of deaths in Istanbul since 1st November with the figures of previous years: 450 as opposed to 202, 190 or 180... Stating that the figures from İmamoğlu must be the real ones, the HDP called Health Minister, Fahrettin Koca, to resign... It was only on the 25th that the ministry started to include asymptomatic cases in its daily figures, announcing 28.351 new cases (including 6.814 symptomatic “patients”), with a total number nearing a half-million: 467.730. On the 27th, with 29.132 new cases, the number of coronavirus deaths officially stood at 13.014, and on the 28th, once again, the figures of the Istanbul CHP municipality, 179 deaths in 24 hours, cast doubt on those of the Ministry, 177 for the whole country... On the 30th, there were 185 deaths for the whole of Turkey... and 173 just for Istanbul (Bianet).
Confronted internally with increasingly critical public opinion, the Turkish President has pursued a militaristic foreign policy that assures him the support of his far-right ally, the ultra-nationalist MHP party, on which he is increasingly dependent. The use as cannon fodder of the jihadists of the so-called “Syrian National Army”, in fact a mercenary force at his service, supported by Turkish-made drones, enables him to avoid losses that would further increase his unpopularity. Inside the country, the MHP’s paramilitary organisation, the “Grey Wolves”, has become an indispensable support to a power that is increasingly positioned on the right. Hence the anger of Mr. Erdoğan when on the 2nd France announced the dissolution of this movement after its attacks against the Armenian community...
But the AKP-MHP alliance is beginning to experience tensions. After the announcement by M. Erdoğan on the 13th of a judicial reform, some in the AKP, such as Bülent Arınç, co-founder of the party, former Deputy Prime Minister and member of the Presidential Council, announced their support for the release of Osman Kavala and Salahattin Demirtaş, which provoked the rage of the MHP. It was the ultra-nationalist mafia leader Alaattin Çakıcı, a close friend of MHP leader Devlet Bahceli, who stepped up to express this in several letters threatening CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, where he called Kavala and Demirtaş “traitors”. On 24, Arınc, “let down” by Erdoğan, resigned from the Presidential Council (Bianet). Not only was Çakıcı not prosecuted for his threats, but on the 30th, a court ordered the arrest of a man who had “insulted” him on social networks, and whose family testified that they had been threatened by the Grey Wolves (Duvar).
On the 2nd, TurkSat published the figures of the Turkish prison population: 291.546 inmates at the end of 2019, with a 10,1% increase in one year. In 2010, there were 163 detainees per 100.000 inhabitants in Turkey; in 2019, this figure had risen to 351... On the 11th, Civil Society in the Penal System (CIST) organisation published its own report on Turkish prisons, produced with the support of the Dutch embassy. The report notes a rapid increase in the Turkish prison population between 2005 and 2015, further accelerated after the attempted coup of 2016, so that after 2018, “the Turkish prison population was above the world average”, resulting in a deterioration of hygiene conditions and respect for prisoners’ rights, for example with the seizure of mail (Bianet).
Concerning the serious incident of two Kurdish citizens thrown from a military helicopter, Osman Şiban and Servet Turgut (who has since died of his injuries), the independent MP Ahmet Şık has published a report that includes several local testimonies. It shows that the information implicating the military comes from the military themselves. Şık stated that, according to Osman Şiban’s statement, the fall from the helicopter was in fact only part of “a whole night of torture and lynching”... As in all cases involving them, the authorities have spared no effort to silence all the journalists who covered the case. On the 24th, after imprisoning the journalist of the Mezopotamya news agency Dindar Karataş, the police launched a second raid on Mezopotamya’s office in Van on the 24th, where they confiscated computer equipment. On the 27th, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, after confirming the opening of an investigation, tried to excuse the culprits by stating that “their commander had been murdered by the terrorists”, and that he had “evidence that Osman Şiban had aided and abetted the terrorists”...
This is unfortunately not the first anti-Kurdish exaction by the security forces, as was recalled by the conclusion of the trial of the police officer who shot in Bağlar (Diyarbakir) eight bullets during Newrouz 2017 at Kemal Kurkut, a 23-year-old Kurdish violinist. Despite the prosecutor’s request for 9 years in prison for “excessive violence”, the police officer was simply acquitted on the grounds of “insufficient evidence”. The scene had however been entirely photographed by Roj TV journalist Abdulrahman Gok. The policeman said he thought Kurkut was carrying a bomb and was going to commit a suicide bombing, whereas the photos show that when he was shot, Kurkut was bare-chested because the police at a checkpoint had forced him to take off his shirt to check that he was unarmed! Gok, who now works for Mezopotamya, is accused of “propaganda for a terrorist organisation” and faces 20 years in prison (Rûdaw, Al-Monitor).
In another case, on the 22nd, the family of a Kurdish man from Yüksekova, Şerali Dereli, told a journalist from the Mezopotamya agency how Dereli, an elderly man in poor health who only went out to look after his two horses, had been shot dead on 29 October in his field with his horses by the Turkish military. When the HDP raised the issue of Dereli’s murder in parliament, the pro-AKP media accused the victim of using his horses to transport drugs. When HDP deputies attended Dereli’s wake, the Sabah newspaper made its front page with the headline “HDP supports drug courier”.
In yet another case, Bahtiyar Fırat, a Kurdish man from Hakkari who had arrived on 14 October in Istanbul to catch a plane to Tehran, and then disappeared after calling his family to report that his taxi was being followed, was finally found on the 30th. Detained in a police station in the city, he had marks of beatings and torture on his body, and was so shocked that he was unable to speak (Duvar).
The repression of Kurdish cultural activities also continued. Thus the play Bêrû (Without Face), a Kurdish adaptation of the play Horn, Trumpets... and Firecrackers by the Italian Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo, a performance of which had already been banned in Istanbul in October, was banned again, this time at Şanlıurfa. As with the first ban, the theatre company was only informed at the last moment; the city’s bar association tweeted that the decision was deliberately taken after working hours (SCF).
As for the “judicial reform” announced by Erdoğan, it turned out to be largely cosmetic. The list of politically motivated arrests and convictions, already quite long, continued to grow during November. After arrests in the last days of October of HDP members in Istanbul, Nusaybin and Adana, on 4 November, Kadriye Tören and Ali Coşkun, HDP co-presidents of Osmaniye were imprisoned, before being charged with terrorism on the 9th. On the 6th, as part of the investigation into the Congress for a Democratic Society (DTK), 26 members of the Trade Union of Education and Science Workers (Eğitim-Sen) were imprisoned in a series of raids in Diyarbakir (Bianet). On the 9th at Şırnak (Cizre), ten members of the HDP were arrested in raids on their homes, some of them quite violently. The deposed female co-Mayor of Cizre, Berivan Kutlu, was also arrested, as was the HDP female co-chair of Şırnak, Güler Tunç, against whom nine different investigations were opened. One of them is said to be based on the fact that she visited the grave of her husband and brother-in-law, killed by the Turkish army in 2015 during the curfew in Cizre! Eight members of the Cizre municipal council were also arrested (Bianet). On the 10th, Murat Aydın, member of the HDP Assembly, was arrested in Bingöl. According to the Mezopotamya agency, he was accused of “belonging to an organisation”. On the 12th, about ten people were also arrested in Özalp (Van), including several HDP members, as well as two other HDP members in Horasan (Erzurum) and one in Kahramanmaraş. In Mardin, the previously dismissed mayor of Derik district, Abdulkarim Erdem, was sentenced to 95 months in prison for “membership in a terrorist organisation”, along with six other defendants. Early on the 13th, police launched new raids in Diyarbakir, arresting at least 12 people, including the deposed co-Mayor of Sur Municipality, Cemal Özdemir and his female colleague, Filiz Buluttekin, and four health workers previously dismissed by decree laws. During one of the searches, police officers pointed their weapons at children (RojInfo).
Early in the morning of the 20th, in a large-scale anti-Kurdish raid, the police, still in the framework of the DTK investigation, arrested 72 people in Diyarbakir, Adiyaman, Istanbul and Izmir in house raids. Computer equipment was seized. Among those arrested were politicians, doctors, lawyers, journalists and civil society activists, including 24 lawyers, 17 of whom belong to the Diyarbakir Bar Association. Another court case against former Diyarbakir Bar Association leaders for commemorating the Armenian genocide and using the word “Kurdistan” in their statements is also under way. In total warrants have been issued for 101 persons. “Yesterday there was talk of reform, today new repression against the Kurds”, tweeted Emma Sinclair-Webb, Human Rights Watch’s director for Turkey. The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) joined calls for the immediate release of all detainees (Al-Monitor, AFP). An indictment has also been prepared against the “Saturday Mothers”, it was reported on the 23rd. Specifically, it targets the 46 people arrested in August 2018 when police attacked the 700th gathering of these women who gather every Saturday in Galatasaray Square in Istanbul to ask for news of their missing children. Accused of “unarmed participation in illegal demonstrations and marches” and “refusing to disperse despite warnings”, they face conviction for violating the Law on Demonstrations (Bianet).
In Diyarbakir, Eşref Mamedoğlu, a member of the HDP, was sentenced to ten years and seven months in prison for “terrorist propaganda” and “membership of a terrorist organisation” (WKI). On the morning of the 26th, in a new police operation, 26 Kurdish activists were arrested in their homes early in the morning in Istanbul (Female Kurdistan). The same day, in Diyarbakir, the HDP deputy from Antalya, Kemal Bulbul, was sentenced to six years and three months in prison for “membership in a terrorist organisation”. He was charged with participating in a meeting of the DTK more than two years ago. Bulbul said he was invited by the DTK as the head of two Alevis organisations, adding that if he was invited today, he would attend again. His lawyer appealed against the judgement (Rûdaw). On the 27th, five members of the board of directors of the Diyarbakir Chamber of Architects were arrested, while 15 others were imprisoned during house raids in Batman and Cemile Altan, a member of the Siirt municipal council, was arrested (Ahval). The same night, police launched a night raid on the HDP office in Van. The police changed the locks of the premises, leaving the new keys on the doors and a message on a whiteboard: “Salam alaikum, we are here” (Bianet)...
According to the Mezopotamya agency’s count, as of 28 November, since the announcement of the “judicial reform” made by M. Erdoğan on the 13th, a reform which, according to the Turkish president, is supposed to put more emphasis on the respect of human rights, at least 415 people had been arrested, and eleven of them were then formally arrested... At the end of the month, the number of arrests was approaching 500 (Ahval, WKI).
At the same time, attacks against journalists who make the mistake of covering subjects not appreciated by the authorities have continued. On the 10th, the journalist Çağlar Tekin, of Tele-1 TV, was briefly imprisoned for having published in 2016 photos showing members of ISIS using military vehicles taken from the Turkish army – photos already published by the Anatolia state agency and later deleted. On the 26th, the anti-terrorist police launched a raid on journalists, politicians and human rights defenders in Istanbul in which 19 people were arrested out of 25 wanted (Bianet). Turkey’s conviction on 10 November by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for having, after the attempted coup of 2016, remanded in custody ten journalists from the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet does not seem to have impressed the Turkish authorities. The ECHR ruled that the detentions were not based on any plausible reason, and that the incriminated articles did not contain “any support or promotion of the use of violence in the political field”, and condemned the Turkish state to pay 16.000 euros for moral damages to each of the journalists (AFP).
Finally, it was on the 26th that the trial of the attempted coup of July 2016 in Ankara was concluded. 337 of the 475 defendants, officers (including generals) and civilians, were sentenced to life imprisonment for their involvement, 60 to sentences ranging from six to sixteen years, and 75 acquittals were pronounced. However, this is only a small proportion of the sentences already handed down, since the attempt has been the subject of no less than 290 trials, in which more than 2.500 life sentences have already been handed down... (Le Monde)
“I protested when I read the indictments against Demirtaş, Kavala”: High Presidential Advisory Council member Bülent Arınç, who is also a founding member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and a former Speaker of Parliament, commented on the continued pre-trial detention of Selahattin Demirtaş, the former co-chair of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and Osman Kavala, the arrested businessman and rights defender. Watching a live broadcast on Habertürk TV on 19 November, Arınç, referring to the indictments against Kavala and Demirtaş said: “I thought they couldn’t even be the work of a child, I even wanted to wear my lawyer’s dress”. Expressing his “astonishment” that Kavala is still under arrest, he said: “Demirtaş may also be released”.
Arınç briefly said the following: “It is both possible for an indictment to be filed against a person who has been arrested for 3-4 years and for him or her to be released with that indictment. I say this on the basis of the principle of exceptionality of arrest, invoking the principle that “arrest must not become a punishment”.
“While the issue of Demirtaş has been raised, I would like to say something to those who are listening to us now. There is a very beautiful storybook written by Demirtaş, its name is Devran [yet unpublished in English, translated into French under the title “Et tournera la roue”]. Please buy and read it. I read it in the process. You may not change your views on Demirtaş after reading it, but so many things will change in your minds about the Kurds and the trauma they have suffered. [...] One of the [groups] that have been harmed in this country are the Kurds. We all need to read what happened in Diyarbakir prison in 1980 [period of the military coup] from Devran’s stories.
“When I was Deputy Prime Minister, some people were released as part of the settlement process [for the Kurdish issue]. That [he] can also be released. Judges, prosecutors and the courts should think in a liberal way. Even if it is not written as such, ‘thinking liberal’ is the basis for the judicial reform that needs to be introduced today”.
And, about Osman Kavala: “The allegations against Kavala have been consolidated in a new indictment. But the man has been under arrest since 2017”. [...] “They bring me indictments, maybe they think [highly] of me. I have read it. I am surprised that he is still arrested. He needs to be released. I say this based on what I have read. I am neither a judge nor a prosecutor. Dear judges and prosecutors… In criminal law you cannot just break a person’s heart in half and look at what is inside. You cannot fabricate evidence based on doubt, suspicion or comparison. [...] I was a criminal lawyer for 30 years. When I read these indictments, I protested and said, “It couldn’t even be child’s work”. “In fact, when I said: “I want to wear my lawyer’s dress”, a troll from our circle denounced me and called me “Bülo in a dress”. People who know the law might think that these accusations are disjointed, they might just as well think that this is meant to weaken a certain perception. Isn’t that what happened with Pastor [Andrew] Brunson? Isn’t that what happened with [journalist] Deniz Yücel? They met in Büyükada, oh the traitors, who knows what they talked about there? We can’t break anyone’s heart in two and look into it. We will know what they talked about. We will know why they met. We will know if they acted in accordance with what they did, we will look at the beginning of the material incident. [...] I say this as a person of law, these people should be released, at least as a precautionary measure. The court could give its judgment. Because the judgment to be given by this court has a control mechanism. It will go first to the Court of Appeal and then to the Court of Cassation.”
These statements earned the former deputy prime minister harsh criticism from President Erdoğan and his far-right ally Devlet Bahçeli. In the face of media outcry, Mr Arınç said he was wounded and resigned from his post in the High Presidential Council.
In addition, the former Diyarbakir MP and co-founder of the AKP İhsan Arslan was unanimously referred by the AKP leadership to the disciplinary board of this party. His crime: having said in an interview with the Turkish section of the BBC that he thought “we are not very far from a transition to a parliamentary system”.
In Erdoğan’s Turkey, even the veterans of his party do not have freedom of opinion. They must follow the leader (Reis) without flinching and without expressing any personal opinion.
The two main Kurdish political forces in Syria, the Party of Kurdish National Unity (PYNK), a recent alliance of parties close to the Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria (AANES), and the Kurdish National Council (CNK, ENKS in Kurdish), in opposition to the AANES, both declared this month that, contrary to the claims of some local media, the talks they had started since June, under American and French mediation, had not failed, but were only suspended. Notably, Mazlum Abdi, commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), told Al-Monitor that he had recently received an ENKS delegation from Erbil. In Washington, Sinem Mohamed, the US representative of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political wing of the SDF, told on the 10th during a public event that discussions were now focusing on how ENKS could participate in local government. She added, however, that the military aspect, including the participation of the “Rojava Peshmergas”, for the moment still stationed on Iraqi territory, had not yet been discussed. Besides, the “Peace and Freedom Front”, an opposition group created last summer by ENKS and several Assyrian and Arab opposition parties, confirmed its support for the intra-Kurdish dialogue. Its spokesman Gabriel Moushe, a member of the Assyrian Democratic Organisation (ODA) said on 9 in Kurdistan-24 that “in the future, we want all [ethnic] components and nations of the region, including Assyrians, Syriacs, Chaldeans, Arabs and Kurds, to participate in these negotiations, so that the current administration can be re-established in a just manner”. Adding that the ODA had considered joining the AANES in 2014, but that the talks had failed, Moushe expressed the hope that other ethnic communities would join a new, more inclusive and democratic administration (Kurdistan-24). On the 9th, the SDF commander said in an interview with Al-Monitor: “If these [intra-Kurdish] talks are successful [...], I am convinced that it will have a positive impact on our ties with Turkey. It would deprive Turkey of excuses for its continued hostility against us”. Showing cautious optimism that Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the United States would lead to a change in Ankara’s attitude towards the Rojava, he said he was ready for talks with Turkey without preconditions (WKI, Al-Monitor).
However, Turkey, which has already launched three military operations against the AANES and occupies part of its territory, despite two ceasefires, negotiated respectively with Russian and American mediation, maintains almost permanent military pressure on it, either directly or through its jihadist mercenaries. The latter regularly launch fire on towns just beyond their zone of control, such as Manbij, Ain Issa or Girê Spî (Tall Abyad), while Turkish drones multiply overflights. At the same time, Turkey is consolidating its presence in the Syrian territories it controls: north of Kobanê and between Amûdê and Darbasiya (Jéziré), it is building walls along the border which encroach heavily on Syrian territory, de facto annexing villages in violation of international law. According to the Human Rights Organisation of Cizir, the same method was used in Afrin to annex 2.700 hectares, accompanying the destruction of around 13.000 olive and pistachio trees.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on the 8th that the SDF and pro-Turkish mercenaries had clashed in violent engagements in Shahba, west of Afrin, which had claimed victims on both sides. In mid-month, clashes intensified further near Ain Issa and the strategic M4 motorway, and at least five civilians were injured by Turkish fire. Turkey also shelled SDF positions near Girê Spi (Tell Abyad). On the evening of the 17th, the Rojava Information Center reported further heavy artillery bombardment by pro-Turkish mercenaries on villages near Ain Issa, Seda and Malik, the IDP camp, and the M4 international highway (Kurdistan-24). On the evening of the 22nd near Aïn Issa, according to the SOHR, new clashes between the SDF and pro-Turkish jihadist mercenaries left at least 11 of the latter dead in some of the most intense fighting between the two sides in recent weeks. These began after the jihadists launched an attack on the positions of SDF fighters, an unspecified number of whom were also wounded or killed. On the 23rd, faced with the advance of pro-Turkish mercenaries, the SDF mined the outskirts of the village of Ma’laq, near Ain Issa, before withdrawing. The mines caused many deaths among the mercenaries: first counted at 21, the death toll then rose to 31, the heaviest losses in a single operation for these jihadists since their takeover of Tell Abyad in October 2019. The Russian forces stationed in Ain Issa mediated the return of the bodies by the SDF (WKI, SOHR).
On the 24th, Aram Hanna, spokesman for the Syrian Military Council, a member of the SDF, said that Turkish artillery fire on Ain Issa and its surroundings, as well as on the small Christian town of Tell Tamr, which had already been unceasing before, had increased after the American elections of 3 November. The information was confirmed on the 27th by SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel, who said that while the situation had been calm in previous months, Turkish attacks had intensified in the last week. The Co-Chairman of the Executive Committee of the SDC, Ilham Ahmed, accused Russia, which had guaranteed the ceasefire and has forces stationed in Ain Issa, of being partly responsible because of its inaction for Turkey’s disrespect of the agreement (Kurdistan-24). On the 29th, the SDF issued a communiqué denouncing the heavy bombardments of the previous three days on the front line of Aïn Issa and especially those launched early in the morning on the villages of the Tall Abyad / Girê Spî area, which directly targeted civilian dwellings and wounded two children.
This recent increase in Turkish military activity against the Rojava, as well as the numerous reconnaissance flights near Serê Kaniyê (Ras al-Aïn) and the recent withdrawal of sections of the wall in the Darbasiyah region (RojInfo) make the civilian population fear the launch of a new Turkish offensive. On the 26th, Ahval wondered whether Turkey was not preparing to use its last “window of opportunity” before the arrival in power in the United States of Joe Biden to take the new administration by speed and launch a new offensive in the middle of the transition period. The news site recalled that at the beginning of October, the Turkish parliament has approved a draft law extending the authorisation of cross-border military campaigns in Syria and Iraq until 30 October 2021...
At the same time, information and testimonies on the exactions of jihadist mercenaries from Turkey in the territories they control continue to accumulate. On the 2nd, the Morning Star published a particularly frightening testimony of a Kurdish woman from Afrin who, after being arrested at her home in April 2018, was taken over to Turkey in Kilis where she was put on trial, before being taken back to Afrin to be imprisoned: “I myself witnessed the murder in the Kilis town prison of four young men between 25 and 30 years old”, she said. “An elderly man also lost his life as a result of severe torture”. Detained for five months, she was fed pork and spoiled food, with insufficient water. She saw women whipped and one hanged upside down and beaten until she lost consciousness. According to her, the mercenaries justified their actions by claiming that “torturing Kurdish women is halal”. She said that among the Afrin prisoners were also children between 5 and 12 years old, who were also subjected to torture. According to the Missing Afrin Women project, 161 women have been abducted since March 2018. About a third have been released, but the whereabouts of the rest are unknown... In total, hundreds of Kurds have been kidnapped since the Turkish invasions of Afrin and the Syrian Northeast, most of them having been murdered or held for ransom.
According to local Kurdish media, two Afrin residents, Bader Kutu and Mustafin Kolin, were abducted earlier this month by jihadist mercenaries. On the 11th, Afrin Human Rights Organisation said a 35-year-old Kurdish man, Luqman Yusef Mustafa, arrested on 3 September in Jindiris, had died under torture at the hands of MIT, the Turkish secret service, in the infamous Ma’aratah prison, five kilometres west of Afrin. According to the organisation, the victim’s body was handed over to his family on 10 November to be buried in a district of Jindiris “under the close surveillance of the Turkish intelligence services and military police”. Kurdistan-24, which reports the information, says it has been unable to obtain confirmation from other sources, but both the Afrin organisation and the SOHR reported that the prison administration had stated that the man had died of a heart attack, and both sources agree that the medical report in question was fabricated, while the family accuses the mercenaries of having “tortured their son to death”.
Thomas McClure, a field-based researcher at the Rojava Information Centre, told Kurdistan-24 that “dozens of arrests” in the past two months had targeted Kurdish members of the local councils that Turkey had set up in Afrin in an attempt to legitimise its occupation. Nearly 25 of them are still detained. For McClure, Turkey is trying to sabotage the ongoing talks between the AANES and the ENKS while taking the opportunity to rebalance the ethnic composition of the region it occupies for its own benefit: “The torture and murder of Mr. Mustafa show once again that Turkey is blocking any attempt to move towards peace and a new political settlement in Syria”, he concluded.
During November, the SDF also continued its actions against ISIS, announcing at the beginning of the month the capture at the end of October of a commander of this organisation, known as Abu Jihad Al-Ansari, and seven other jihadists in Al-Busayra, in the province of Deir Ezzor (SOHR, WKI). The following week, the SDF announced the arrest of four jihadists in several raids conducted with US air support in the same region, which appears to have become a centre of activity for ISIS. During the second week of the month, the SDF announced the capture of three jihadists in Jedid Ekeda, Shadadi and Al-Hol in security operations conducted jointly with the anti-ISIS coalition, while two SDF fighters were killed in an attack on a village in Deir Ezzor. New raids launched at the end of the month led to the capture of eight other jihadists in this region (WKI).
On the 16th, Kurdish security forces supervised the departure from Al-Hol camp of 515 Syrians, IDPs or family members of ISIS fighters, mostly women and children from more than 120 families. This wave of departures, announced by the SDC in a statement, was the first since the AANES announced last month that thousands of Syrians would be allowed to return to their home areas. A total of nearly 10.000 people are expected to be able to leave the camp, which according to the UN is home to more than 64.000 people, the majority of whom are Iraqis and 24.300 Syrians. Some 6.000 Syrians had already left the camp in successive waves following negotiations with Arab tribal leaders, the majority in eastern Syria. By mid-October, 600 former ISIS members had also been released following a general amnesty (AFP).
Concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, while Syria, hit by a second wave, continues to try to conceal its extent, the virus is also spreading in the region administered by the AANES. On the 10th, the Kurdish Institute of Washington (WKI) announced the Rojava had at least 5.000 cases and 143 deaths. The Autonomous Administration reacted to these figures by extending the partial blockade in its territory by two weeks. On the 23rd, Dr. Jiwan Mustafa, co-president of the AANES Health Authority, said that the region had seen 100 new cases in one week, 53 men and 47 women, with a total of 6.691 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, 183 of whom had died. In an attempt to limit the risks of spread, the anti-ISIS coalition has distributed to 26.500 members of the Asayish Kurdish security forces masks, gloves with hand and surface disinfectant; training workshops on barrier gestures have also been held (Syrian Democratic Times).
On the domestic policy front, AANES continued its dialogue with civil society through a series of consultations held throughout the whole Syrian North-East, and in particular with Arab tribal leaders. These various meetings, referred to as the “National Symposium”, resulted in the announcement of reforms aimed at improving both political inclusion and economic living conditions in the Autonomous Region. As in the rest of Syria, the COVID-19 pandemic and the sharp depreciation of the Syrian pound have had disastrous consequences. The economic component of the announced reforms includes price controls, increased support for agriculture, and “commodity self-management”, which could include Deir Ezzor oil. Politically, local elections are expected to be held within a year. The Arab Aqidat tribe in particular, whose leaders have recently been targeted by several assassinations, had made specific demands to the AANES and the anti-ISIS coalition. “Measures to combat smuggling, bureaucracy and corruption” were also announced (WKI).
In addition, the AANES was commanded by the Vice-Chairman of the American Council for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Nadine Maenza, who went there at the end of October on an unofficial trip and stayed there for several weeks before going to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, where she gave an interview to the local Kurdish channel Rûdaw on 21 October. Maenza reported that she had been very positively surprised by the inclusion of minorities in local governance, gender equality and religious freedom she saw in Rojava. In particular, she said it was the Kurds in Syria who had set the region on the path it was currently following: “Autonomy has started in the Kurdish areas”, she said, adding that she gave the AANES a score of “ten out of ten” concerning religious freedom. Regarding Turkish hostility towards the Rojava, she said: “The story Turkey uses to justify its invasion, that the citizens of north-eastern Syria are terrorists, is ridiculous. [The Rojava government] defends religious freedom, gender equality and even gardens”. Maenza encouraged the international community to condemn Turkey’s policies, particularly the “horrific atrocities committed against religious minorities in the areas that Turkey occupies in Syria”. Highly critical of the Turkish President’s policies, she said: “It is time for the US government to consider sanctions as the President Erdoğan has certainly ignored President Trump’s instructions. […] He did exactly what he said he wouldn’t do, commit atrocities, kill people... the administration should consider severe sanctions”.
On 12 November, the Iraqi parliament passed an emergency financing law authorising the government to borrow on the international market. Although MPs approved only one-third of the amount requested, $10 billion out of 35, it should enable the government to complete a budget that has been undermined by the fall in oil prices. But for the Kurdistan Region, the most important aspect of this session is the conflict between the Kurdish MPs and their Shiite colleagues and some Sunnis: they had an article adopted according to which the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will only receive its share of the federal budget if it hands over to Baghdad the revenues generated by its own oil exports. Opposing the linking of their budget to unresolved oil issues between Baghdad and their Region, the Kurdish MPs left the room (Reuters). The law, including Article 5(2) disputed by the Kurds, was passed in their absence by the Arab majority.
Last August, Baghdad and Erbil had agreed on a monthly payment of $270 million (well below the previous KRG budget, which needs $780 million to operate properly) in exchange for the daily supply of 250.000 barrels of oil. The amendment by the Parliament’s Finance Committee introduced as a new condition the transfer to Baghdad of all KRG oil revenues plus those of its customs, which would reduce the KRG’s monthly revenues from $764 million to $293 million (WKI). Even before the adoption of the controversial article, the Second Deputy Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament called this requirement a “declaration of war”.
On the 15th in Erbil, the three presidencies of the Kurdistan Region, the Parliament Speaker, the Prime Minister and the President of the Region, held a meeting to discuss this law. In his opening speech, President Nechirvan Barzani criticised “the language and tone” of the draft law, as “those of punishment” and a content “contrary to the principles of coexistence, balance of power and cooperation, which are the most important principles on which Iraq was built back in 2003”. He expressed his concern about a dangerous development in the country. Referring to the interim agreement reached in August, which the KRG had accepted despite a budget “far below what we should legally receive”, he said the new law had cut short the process that had begun until a final agreement was reached on the 2021 finance law “through the SOMO company on the share of the region’s oil revenues”. However, he reiterated the KRG’s willingness to continue the negotiations: “Oil is not the only problem between us and Baghdad. We also have other serious problems and if we do not resolve them, Iraq will not be able to maintain its stability”, he added before calling on the United Nations to intervene to help “resolve the disagreements between the two parties”. Responding to questions from journalists, Barzani said a delegation would soon travel to Baghdad to try to find a solution.
For his part, immediately after the law was passed, the leader of the KDP, Massoud Barzani, described it as “a stab in the back of the people of Kurdistan” (Kurdistan-24).
On the 25th, the KRG decided to send an official letter to Baghdad asking for the Region’s share of the budget for the four months of May, June, July and October, specifying that “the delay in the payment of the budget share is not linked to the recent adoption of a disputed law on the fiscal deficit”, and constitutes “a violation of the legitimate rights of the Kurdish people”: according to the agreement signed in August, the Kadhimi cabinet was to send 320 billion dinars (268 million dollars) per month.
On the 26th, the Iraqi Prime Minister promised the Vice-President of the Parliament Basheer Haddad to pay the October salaries to the civil servants in Kurdistan. This promise provoked a strong reaction from members of Muqtada Sadr’s Sayroon alliance and former Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s Nasr coalition: “The Prime Minister cannot send this money to Kurdistan”, said to Rûdaw Falah Abdulkareem of Nasr, “if he does, he will be prosecuted”.
On the 29th, KRG spokesman Jutyar Adil assured on the Kurdish channel Rûdaw that, according to the Prime Minister’s instructions, the KRG would quickly start distributing salaries, whether Baghdad pays the budget or not. He added that the KRG “respects its obligation to send [to Baghdad] more than 250.000 barrels of oil per day, which represents 50% of the revenues generated by the border crossings”, and that it would abide by the Iraqi budget law despite its deep disagreement with it.
The consequences of this budgetary tug-of-war were not long in coming. In the last week of the month, Kurdish school teachers went on strike in Kirkuk. On the 30th, the Erbil Parliament postponed the session scheduled to discuss salaries and the means by which the KRG planned to reach an agreement with Baghdad.
During this month, the jihadist organisation ISIS continued its attacks in the zone separating the lines of the Iraqi military from those of the Kurdish pechmergas. At the beginning of the month, the latter launched attacks against jihadists in the region of Qarachokh (Makhmur) with the support of the anti-ISIS coalition. In Kirkuk, security forces arrested at least three ISIS commanders and killed a jihadist preparing a bomb attack and wounded another near Hawija. This did not prevent another attack on the 9th in which an Iraqi policeman and a militiaman were killed and six others injured. In an effort to prevent these attacks, the Iraqi army deployed additional troops to the Hawija district, and also replaced the federal police north of the city of Kirkuk, but the jihadists continued their attacks and abductions of civilians. Although a new raid, again near Hawija, led to the arrest of two more jihadi leaders on 15 October, a new police officer was killed and two others wounded by snipers in the following days. In the week of the 16th, at least eight civilians and members of the security forces fell victim to the jihadists near the administrative boundary between the provinces of Salahaddin and Kirkuk. Conversely, 12 jihadists were eliminated. Besides, one of the Kurdish demands concerning Kirkuk may be on the verge of being heard: according to several Iraqi media, Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhimi may soon decide to transfer responsibility for security in the province to local law enforcement agencies. This transfer has been requested by the Kurds since the imposition of martial law on the province on 16 October 2017 following the referendum on the independence of Kurdistan from Iraq.
At the end of the month, Iraqi security forces arrested a jihadist in Hawija and six others were eliminated in the Hamrin Mountains by anti-terrorist forces with the support of the international coalition. Finally, two Kurdish men kidnapped by ISIS near Tuz Khurmatou six months ago were released for a ransom of $40.000 (WKI).
Concerning COVID-19, as shown by the statistics put online by the KRG (https://gov.krd/coronavirus-en/dashboard/), during November Kurdistan experienced a slow decrease in the number of new cases per day, which had peaked on 27 October with around 1.600 cases in 24 hours, and had fallen to 415 cases by 30 November, a number that is still very high for around five million inhabitants. On the 23rd, there were still 490 cases and 17 deaths. On the 24th, the governor of Erbil, Firat Sofi, died of the disease. By the end of the month, the total number of cases since the beginning of the epidemic was approaching 100.000 with 3.000 deaths. For the whole of Iraq, where the decline in the number of daily infections began at about the same time as in Kurdistan, by the end of the month there were 550.000 registered cases, 2.114 new cases and 34 deaths in 24 hours for a total of 12.258 (https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/iraq/). On the 7th, the Iraqi Coronavirus Task Force, a federal committee coordinating the country’s response to the disease, issued a directive setting the start of the school year for the end of November 2020. At the end of the month, the WHO representative in Iraq, Adham Ismail, on leaving, said at a joint press conference with the KRG Minister of Health, Saman Barjinji, that he had been “impressed” by the KRG’s response to the pandemic and its cooperation with his own institution (Kurdistan-24).
At the beginning of November, the Turkish anti-PKK operation “Tiger’s Claws” on the soil of Iraqi Kurdistan once again fuelled tensions between Kurds. While the KDP accuses the PKK, by luring Turkey southwards, of being responsible for the constant violations of its borders by the Turkish army, and beyond that, of endangering the constitutional status of Iraqi Kurdistan, the PKK, in turn, accuses the KDP of acting as Turkey’s agent against him... Tensions had already been heightened in October by a series of events, notably on 8 October, the assassination of the head of the security forces at the Serziri border post, Gazi Salih Alihan, for which the KRG accused the PKK. The KRG rejected the accusation, with its commander Murat Karayılan warning that once the PKK is eliminated, “Turkey will attack Erbil”. Then on the 9th came the agreement between Baghdad and Erbil on the management of Sindjar, which was clearly aimed at removing the PKK and the Yezidi who had rallied to it. A few days later, on 14 October, the sending of KDP pechmergas to Zine Wertê (Rawanduz), west of the Qandil Mountains, the PKK sanctuary on the Iranian border, had further increased the risk of direct KDP-PKK confrontation. After a skirmish and a partial withdrawal of PDK forces, tensions eased somewhat, and thanks to the intervention of independent personalities, discussions are reported to have begun (Al-Monitor). On 25 October, according to a KRG communiqué dated 27 October, the oil pipeline linking Kurdistan to the Turkish port of Ceyhan was hit by an explosion. The communiqué did not immediately specify on which territory the explosion took place or who was responsible for it, but the PKK was an obvious suspect...
On 4 November, KDP-PKK tensions rose again when a PKK attack using a home-made bomb in Chamanke (Dohuk) killed one KDP peshmerga and injured two others. The PKK claimed that the patrol had crossed its territory and again accused the KDP of supporting Turkish operations against it. The KRG Prime Minister immediately denounced the attack, stating that “any attack against the peshmerga forces constitutes an attack against the Kurdistan Region, its institutions and its people”. KDP-PKK tensions eased somewhat, but Turkey continued its strikes on Iraqi territory. In the second week of the month, Turkish fighter planes launched new bombings on Sangasar, between Qandil and Suleimanieh, near Lake Dokan (WKI). The following week, as part of the agreement with the KRG, the Iraqi government deployed three federal police brigades to Sinjar.
On 27 November, physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a senior official in charge of Iran’s nuclear programme, was murdered in his vehicle in the outlying suburbs of Tehran. That such an operation could have been carried out shows the inability of the regime, despite the omnipresence of its security forces, to protect its officials, even on its own territory. Anti-Iranian operations have multiplied since January 2020. While the targeted assassination by an American drone of General Ghassem Soleimani took place in Baghdad, the following attacks, a long series of which targeted nuclear sites or refineries, have indeed taken place in the country, including the explosion of the Natanz nuclear site on 2 July, then the assassination in August in the middle of Tehran of Al-Qaeda’s number two, Abu Mohammed Al-Masri (although Tehran denied he was living on its territory). Even if Admiral Ali Shamkhani accused the opposition organisation of the People’s Mujahideen of being involved in the latest assassination alongside the Israeli secret services (La Croix, New York Times), a way of explaining the knowledge of the terrain that such an action implies, the success of the operation is no less a slap in the face for the Islamic Republic. And the fact that the operation could have been mounted with the primary objective of embarrassing the future Biden administration (Le Monde), as if Iranian sovereignty were after all a secondary variable, further aggravates the situation.
In response, and in an attempt to clear itself of the accusation of ineffectiveness, it is feared that the regime will be looking for scapegoats among the Arabs of Khuzistan or the Kurds, already accused of being in intelligence with the enemy. Indeed, in the Financial Times, an official of the regime anonymously pointed the finger at ethnic minorities, stating that “both the economic crisis and the presence of political and ethnic dissident groups facilitate Israel’s recruitment of people to carry out assassinations” (La Croix). If there is one point on which he is right, it is the seriousness of the economic situation of these minorities, who are severely discriminated against by Tehran’s policy. Almost at the same time as the assassination of Fakhrizadeh, the Statistical Centre of Iran published its monthly report on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). According to this document, Iranian Kurdistan is still one of the poorest and least developed regions of the country, with the Kurdish province of Ilam experiencing the highest monthly increase in consumer prices, at 8.8%. In terms of CPI increase, the Kurdistan province (capital Sanandaj), ranks fourth, with +7.1%.
More broadly, Le Monde published on the 26th under the headline “Iran’s middle class threatened with extinction by the economic crisis”, an article about an economy “undermined by endemic corruption and mismanagement”, and reported that on that date, “the euro was buying [...] at almost 300.000 rials on the black market, twice as much as a year ago”, before adding: “To further darken the picture, the Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a further blow to the country’s economy, the worst hit in the region with 46.207 deaths – a figure that is probably underestimated”.
Underestimated, certainly: Iranian authorities seem to have won the sad record of the lies about the pandemic. At the same time, the People's Mujahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI) calculated from regional sources that the number of deaths was almost four times higher, with a figure exceeding 169.000 in 465 cities across the country. Among the provincial figures calculated by the PMOI were 6.170 deaths in Western Azerbaijan, 2.991 in Kurdistan, 3.646 in Kermanshah and 1.695 in Ilam. On the 28th, two days later, the PMOI gave the following figures: 6.310 deaths in Western Azerbaijan, 3.006 in Kurdistan, 3.691 in Kermanshah and 1.750 in Ilam (NCRI).
As always, a terrible repression hits the unfortunate young Kurdish men forced by the crisis to engage in the dangerous occupation of cross-border porter, or kolbar. Already on 31 October, two brothers, Muslim and Mosleh Ghasimi, had been targeted by Turkish border guards on their way back to Iran, the first then died of his injuries in the hospital of Hakkari (WKI). Other kolbars had been injured or killed by Iranian border guards at the end of October. In addition, on the 4th, another porter was seriously injured near Piranshahr by a mine dating from the Iran-Iraq war. Three other kolbars were killed the following week, according to the KMMK association for the defence of human rights in Kurdistan. Two were killed near Chaldiran in two ambushes on the 5th and 6th, and a third, Khosar Sharifi, died of his injuries on the 7th in hospital in Sanandaj (WKI). On the 17th , another kolbar was shot in Hawraman and, also according to the KMMK, two others were killed by the pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) near Oshnavieh (Shino) on the 18th and 19th, and a third by Iranian army artillery fire near Saqqez (WKI). In addition, a shepherd found the body of a kolbar named Murtaza Azizi, who had been missing for four months, near the Iranian-Iraqi border in the province of Kermanshah. Finally, another kolbar was killed by a mine from the Iran-Iraq war near Oshnavieh (Shino) on the 21st. On the 24th and 26th, Iranian border guards wounded three kolbars near the border post of Nowsud (Kermanshah). On the 26th, a Kurdish truck driver was killed by unknown gunmen in Ahwaz. On the 27th, another kolbar was killed in an ambush by Iranian soldiers near Sabzeyar and finally another was wounded on the 29th near Bradost (WKI).
Repression still strikes many Kurds, through arrests or convictions. It began on the 1st of this month with the arrest of two men in Servabad (Salawla), another in Divandareh and a last one in Hawraman, who was refused the assistance of a lawyer. According to a report by the Democratic Party of Kurdistan of Iran (PDKI), in the first week of the month, the regime deployed many troops in the region of Urmia while the pasdaran launched artillery strikes in the mountains.
In Saqqez, former Kurdish opposition group member Faiq Yousifi began serving a six-month prison sentence, as did activist Andesha Sadri, who had been arrested on 7 October. On the 10th, environmental activist Jalal Rostami began a 30-month prison sentence in Sanandaj for “membership in a Kurdish opposition party”. He had been preceded in the same prison the week before by two other activists, Rahim Rafa’ti and Rahman Tabesh, sentenced to 43 months for the same reason. In addition, a Kurdish activist from the village of Naj, Pishtîwan Afsa, also began a five-year sentence in Sanandaj for his participation in the November 2019 demonstrations. Also in Sanandaj, a Kurd who had converted to Christianity, Mortaza Jaafer, deported from Turkey where he had taken refuge, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for “spreading perversion on earth” (mofsed-e fil arz).
The security forces or the Etelaat (Intelligence Service) sometimes arrest very young people, such as 18-year-old Poya Bostani, on the 12th in Piranshahr, or 14-year-old Sena Nekaie, whom the KMMK announced earlier this month that she had been arrested on 27 October in Marivan by Etelaat officers posing as education officials… On the 24th, the Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) reported that a 17-year-old young woman, Aynaz Zarae, accused of belonging to a Kurdish opposition party, whose mother had herself been sentenced to 15 years in July, was sentenced by Urmia “Revolutionary Court” to five years in prison for “undermining national security”.
On the 10th and 12th, the pasdaran arrested nine Kurds in Paveh, accusing them of attacking them. But according to local human rights associations, their arrest was in fact due to their refusal to hand over their cattle to the pasdaran during a raid on 6 November. Finally, three Kurdish activists named Hamed Shiekhi, Nabi Malawaisi and Ayoub Kakakhani began serving one-year prison sentences for “belonging to a Kurdish opposition party”. On the 24th, the trial of Kurdish journalist Murtaza Haqbayan, accused of leaking official documents exposing the corruption of senior Iranian officials on social media, opened in Sanandaj. On the 25th, a Kurdish prisoner from Urmia Central Prison, Hojat Nazhat, set himself on fire to protest against the Iranian authorities’ refusal to release him after he had served his one-year sentence.
At the end of the month, five Kurdish activists arrested in October 2019 for membership of the Kurdish party Komala and “acts against national security” were sentenced to five years in prison. Finally, the regime has imprisoned several Kurdish activists throughout the country, including Anisa Maiher in Kermanshah, Darwesh Murdai in Eslamabad-e Gharb, Wahed Abbaszada in Baneh and Ahmad Mohammadi in Saqqez (WKI).
Despite the wars and various trials, Kurdistan seems still to be a country of “super centenarians”… Indeed, the Iranian press agency announced on 19 November the death at the age of 138 of the “dean of Iran”, Ahmad Sufi, in his village near Saqqez in the province of Kurdistan.
It turns out that Ahmad Sufi was not only the dean of Iran, but also the dean of mankind, because the recognised current dean, Kane Tanaka from Japan, born in 1903, is “only” 117 years old. According to Ahmad Sufi’s identity card (chinasnameh), quoted by the agency, he was born on 28 February 1882 and died of old age. A few days ago, on November 15, his “dauphin” or heir apparent, another Iranian Kurd, Hatim Muhamadi, died at the age of 130 in Delouran in the Kurdish province of Ilam where he spent his time gardening and tending his vines.
The legend of the century-old Kurds is very old. In the 1920s and 1930s a certain Zaro Agha, born in 1774 in the village of Medan in the Ottoman Kurdish province of Bitlis, was the subject of much discussion and curiosity among western gerontologists. Before his death in 1934, at the age of 157 according to Turkish civil records, he was invited to the United States, England and France, where doctors were able to examine this exceptional dean of humanity from every angle.
The secret of their exceptional longevity? Apart from the pure air and clear waters of the Kurdistan mountains, a diet, necessarily organic, based on cereals, vegetables and legumes (lentils and chickpeas), nuts, dried fruit and grape-based sweets, sheep and goat’s milk products and the delicious local honey with a “thousand-flowers”, meat only on special occasions a few times a year. And of course an active life at any age. Some of these centenarians smoked moderately cigarettes rolled with local tobacco, others not at all. As for medicines, centenarian Ahmad Sufi "could not remember" when he had last taken a chemical medicine and was content to treat himself with the herbal remedies of traditional medicine.
In this lengthening period of confinement where many cultural activities are suspended, we are all delighted that the bookshops will be open as of Saturday 28 November. This is an opportunity to suggest the reading of three recent and important books on the Kurds which we were unable to present at the Kurdish Institute because of the restrictions due to the COVID-19 crisis.
1) Si je t’oublie Kurdistan, Olivier Weber (Ed. L’aube)
A long-time defender of the Kurdish cause, Olivier Weber once again went out into the field to meet these freedom fighters and peshmergas, “fighters to death”. In Syria and Iraq, he saw partisans ready to fight again, waiting for international aid or volunteers as during the Spanish war. Wishing to build a Middle East in peace. Eager to rebuild the memory of Mesopotamia. Proud to show their democratic experience with respect for minorities, equality between women and men, a model of society that represents a true laboratory for human rights in the Middle East.
Will the West finally make them believe in their proverb, according to which they have “only mountains as friends”, or will it finally rise to the occasion?
2) Témoignage d’une île-prison, French translation of No Friend but the Mountains, by Behrouz Boochani.
He had fled Iran to express himself freely and to escape from prison, from which he was threatened for his political commitment to the Kurdish cause. But in 2013, the boat that was supposed to take Behrouz Boochani to Australia was intercepted by the authorities and the journalist was detained on the Isle of Manus, in Papua New Guinea, in northern Australia.
Through thousands of text messages, sent using a secret mobile phone to a translator friend, Behrouz documented life in this monstrous detention camp, the multiple human rights violations, the deplorable living conditions, the incomprehension and despair of the innocent prisoners. Like so many others stripped of his identity, his humanity and his individuality, Behrouz managed to make the silent revolt of unjustly treated migrants around the world heard in a masterful work. Those who, like the Kurdish people, now have only the mountains as their ally.
This is a victory for humanity. It is a victory against the system that has reduced us to numbers, said journalist and filmmaker Behrouz Boochani after the announcement of the Victorian Prize for Literature jury.
“Behrouz Boochani has produced a literary, journalistic and philosophical tour de force. This book is without doubt one of the most important published in Australia in the last 20 years” – The Saturday Paper
“A breathtaking work of art that defies description. A beautiful and precise writing, mixing literary traditions from all over the world, but more particularly from Kurdish practices” – Jury of the Victorian Prize for Literature
3) And finally for those who have not yet read it: Et tournera la roue (Ed. Emmanuelle Collas), in English So will turn the wheel, a collection of short stories written in prison by the charismatic Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş, published in Turkish under the title Devran.
Selahattin Demirtaş has been incarcerated since 4 November 2016 in Edirne, Turkey, on the borders of Greece and Bulgaria; he faces a sentence of 183 years in prison because he believes in freedom, democracy and peace. A Kurd from Turkey and a human rights lawyer, he is the charismatic leader of the HDP, the most progressive pro-Kurdish and feminist opposition party in the Middle East. After Dawn, another collection of short stories written in prison and published in 2018, which won the Montluc Resistance and Freedom Prize and the Lorientales 2019 Prize, Selahattin Demirtaş has continued to write in a twelve square metre jail and to affirm his faith in the future. His female characters’ names are Sevtap, Zeynep or Esmer. His male characters are called Devran, Serhat or Cemsid. All of them, whoever they are and wherever they come from, we recognise them, these ordinary people whose destiny is intertwined with that of a country, Turkey. From the intimate to the political, with lucidity, humour and benevolence, Selahattin Demirtaş evokes, in a gallery of funny, touching or revolting portraits, those who are subjected to precariousness, exile or social inequalities. With great evocative power, this book, which reminds us that always “the wheel will eventually turn”, is an invitation to resist and never lose hope. Selahattin Demirtaş is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 2019.
During a recent broadcast on Habertürk TV, former Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arinç recommended reading this collection to understand how much the Kurds are mistreated and harmed in Turkey. This recommendation provoked an outcry from Turkish nationalists and the anger of Erdogan because Mr. Arinç, a criminal lawyer by training, claimed at the same time that the indictment against Demirtaş was ridiculous and untenable, “a child’s work”, and called for the release of the Kurdish leader who has been in pre-trial detention since 2016, as well as that of Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala.
So read Devran. In France you risk nothing untoward.