B u l l e t i n

c o m p l e t

Bulletin N° 432 | March 2021



On 2nd of March, President Erdoğan, with his countless human rights violations, announced an “action plan” supposed to... improve the human rights situation in Turkey. For more than an hour, writes Le Soir, he detailed dozens of measures, sometimes very vague or, on the contrary, very technical, without announcing anything notable in the areas where he knew his words were particularly under scrutiny. Human rights defenders, both at home and abroad, remained sceptical. Opposition CHP MP Sezgin Tanrıkulu publicly challenged the president: “You say with this document that the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights [ECHR] are binding and that the decisions of the Constitutional Court will be taken into account by the judges. So will Selahattin Demirtaş be released tomorrow? Will you comply with the decisions of the ECHR and will Osman Kavala be released tomorrow? ». The Turkish Human Rights Association İHD asked the same questions. Another CHP MP, Ünal Çeviköz, quipped: “This human rights action plan is like the rediscovery of the Turkish Constitution"... Why not indeed starting by respecting it? Mr Erdoğan was quick to justify those concerns by showing how he intended to “improve the human rights situation” in the country. On the 17th, the parliament controlled by the president’s AKP party outrageously expelled HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party, opposition) MP Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, who had been sentenced to two and a half years in prison for a tweet: one hundred police officers entered the parliamentary compound to arrest him bluntly. On the same day, the chief prosecutor of Turkey’s highest court of appeal announced starting a procedure to ban the HDP. Then on the 19th, Erdoğan signed a decree ordering Turkey’s exit from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, the “Istanbul Convention”. The communication officer at the Presidency justified this decision on 21 May by saying that the Convention had been “hijacked by a group of people trying to normalise homosexuality – something incompatible with Turkey’s social and family values”. With falling polls (29% of voting intentions in mid-March according to an Avrasya poll), Erdoğan is clearly seeking the votes of the most retrograde currents, which have found the Convention unacceptable since it was signed in 2011. On the 24th, Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated: “President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government is dismantling human rights protections and democratic norms in Turkey on a scale unprecedented in his 18 years in power”. The presidential attack on women’s rights is all the more shocking as it comes only two weeks after the International Day of March 8th. Already on 1st March, the police had attacked a gathering of Kurdish women in Diyarbakir’s Hazal Park, trying to snatch their banners and preventing those dressed in Kurdish style from passing. Furthermore, according to the Turkish organisation Halt Feminicide, in 2020, three hundred women were murdered by men around them and more than one hundred lost their lives in a suspicious manner. For 2021, there are already 77 feminicides... On the 20th, thousands of women took to the streets in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir to protest against the Turkish president’s unilateral decision, which was also condemned abroad: the American president deplored “an extremely discouraging step backwards”, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejcinovic Buric, a “devastating” decision, and the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, “a worrying setback for rights”. Regarding the continued wrongful imprisonment of Selahattin Demirtaş, there have been increasing calls this month to end it. Earlier this month, HRW called on the Council of Europe to increase its pressure on Turkey. In the European Parliament, 590 MEPs voted to put the issue of Demirtaş’s release on the agenda. The following week, Amnesty International in turn launched a new appeal for his release (WKI). Regarding the ban on the HDP, the US State Department said on the 18th that it was “monitoring” the situation and spoke of a decision that would “further undermine democracy in Turkey”. On the same day, the European Union condemned in advance a ban, which would “violate the rights of millions of voters”, while in Berlin, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas denounced a “challenge to the rule of law”. The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejcinovic Buric, also warned. The same day, the Turkish Foreign Minister rejected these criticisms, calling on “those who interfere in our internal affairs [...] to respect the judicial process” (AFP). But the Europeans did not go beyond verbal condemnations. After a video conference meeting on the 19th between Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen, the European communiqué stressed the need for a “more positive Turkey-EU agenda” without mentioning human rights once... Where were the concerns of the previous week? On the one hand, the US administration urged Brussels to avoid sanctions (US Secretary of State Antony Blinken recalled the importance of the Turkish ally), and on the other hand Turkey opportunely softened its stance on its activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. Furthermore, EU states are divided on what to do about Turkey, with some favouring diplomacy while others would like to see sanctions. Lastly, Turkey continues to play its role as guardian of Europe’s borders by holding 3.6 million Syrian refugees on its territory... (Le Monde) Emboldened by this inaction, the Turkish government continued its relentless repression of the HDP. After the fiasco on 12 February of its attempt to free by force 13 Turkish prisoners held by PKK in a cave in Iraqi Kurdistan, which had ended in the death of the prisoners with their guards, it had played the anti-Kurdish hysteria, finding in the HDP a convenient scapegoat to hide its responsibilities. The “pro-Kurdish” party was already accused of having provoked in October 2014 the demonstrations for Kobanê which had left about fifty dead throughout the country. It faced a new wave of repression, with the arrest on 25 February of 718 of its members throughout the country. Seeking to give credence to its version of an execution by the PKK, the government wanted to silence an HDP that was broadcasting a contradictory version: the death of the prisoners under the bombs of the 41 bombers deployed in the attack on the cave where they were held... Now the HDP is facing a request to lift the immunity of 20 of its MPs. Until then, the government seemed to have chosen to keep a very weakened HDP as a democratic alibi in parliament. It now seems to be moving towards a straightforward ban – like those that have hit all previous “pro-Kurdish” parties for the past thirty years. On 2 March, AKP parliamentary group deputy chairman Cahit Ozkan, echoing a new demand from Devlet Bahceli, leader of the far-right MHP, an Erdoğan ally, said: “83 million [Turks] are demanding the political closure of this party” (Reuters). The prosecutor also called for a five-year ban on political office for more than 600 HDP members, in order to prevent the formation of a new party in the event of a ban. This is clearly to facilitate the re-election of Mr Erdoğan in 2023, who is losing ground in the polls. The HDP analyses: “Having failed to prevail over the HDP ideologically, politically or in the ballot box, [the AKP-MHP bloc] aims to eliminate the HDP from democratic politics through the judicial system. Their aggressiveness proves their panic fear”, before concluding: “Whatever they do, we will never bow down, we will not surrender” (AFP). One example shows how relentless the repression has become: on 1st March, the Ankara prosecutor asked for the lifting of HDP MP Garo Paylan’s immunity for “praising crime and criminals” simply because he had sent a message to the imprisoned former co-chairs of the HDP starting with “Dear Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ!” (Bianet) Arrests, convictions and indictments continued. The Antalya High Criminal Court sentenced the former Kurdish mayor of Kayapınar district (Diyarbakir), Fatma Arşimed, to six years and three months in prison for “belonging to an illegal organisation”. In the week of the 9th, five HDP members and one HDP supporter were arrested in Urfa. In addition, the Ankara Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation against Berdan Öztürk, an HDP member who had expressed her support for the Kurdistan map on the KRG postage stamp commemorating Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq (WKI, Al-Monitor). On the 16th, during a hearing in his trial, Selahattin Demirtaş, now detained for more than four years, accused his judges of having “colluded with the government” to establish a “one-man regime and dictatorship”, before calling on them to resign for bias. In particular, he criticised them for refusing to comply with the decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which had ordered his release. At the end of the hearing, the court decided to adjourn the trial, setting the next date for 14 April. On the 17th, HDP MP Gergerlioğlu was stripped of his mandate after a court conviction was officially read out in the chamber. He is the 14th HDP MP to suffer this fate since 2016 (AFP). A few hours later, a prosecutor applied to the Constitutional Court to request the opening of a trial to ban the HDP. According to the indictment sent to the country’s highest court, “HDP members are striving, through their statements and actions, to destroy the indivisible union between the state and the nation”. Denouncing a “political coup”, the HDP accused President Erdoğan of seeking to silence it before the upcoming elections. In a statement, HDP co-chairs Pervin Buldan and Mithat Sancar called on “all democratic forces, all social and political opposition forces and our people to fight together against this political coup”. On the 19th, the media announced new arrests of HDP cadres: 10 in Ankara, including Zeyno Bayramoğlu, spokesperson of the Women’s Council, another 10 in Istanbul, 15 in Adana, 11 in Kocaeli and Eskişehir, including Şükriye Ercan, the provincial co-chairwoman. The party confirmed 36 arrests immediately. Separately, the Human Rights Association (İHD) announced that its co-chair Özturk Turkdogan had been taken into custody in Ankara during a search of his home. “His arrest is a gross violation of human rights. He must be released immediately”, İHD tweeted. After the death of the 13 Turkish PKK prisoners in Iraq, the İHD had in a press conference criticised the airstrike that had led to their deaths and demanded the creation of a commission of enquiry into the case; the next day the interior minister threatened the organisation in front of the national assembly (AFP). HRW denounced the “scandal” of an “attack on the oldest human rights group in Turkey” (VOA). On the morning of the Kurdish holiday of Newrouz, HDP MP Faruk Gergerlioğlu was forcibly removed from parliament by nearly 100 police officers, who roughed him up as he left the parliament’s toilets where he had just performed his ablutions to pray. To protest against his impeachment, he had been refusing to leave the parliament for five days, sleeping and eating in a room of the official building (AFP). Arrested, then released in the afternoon, Gergerlioğlu still faces jail time, however. After receiving a summons on the 22nd to surrender to the authorities under ten days, he filed an appeal with the Constitutional Court on the 23rd against his dismissal (AFP). At the end of the month, after being sentenced to two years and six months in prison for advocating peace between the Turkish government and the PKK, he said he would continue to “defend the rights of the people”, while the HDP filed an appeal with the Court of Cassation regarding his case (WKI). For Newrouz, despite enormous police pressure, hundreds of thousands of participants gathered in Diyarbakir with HDP flags, in a brave demonstration of resistance to the AKP-MHP power ( Rallies were also held in Izmir, Mersin, and Ankara, where the party was held in Anıt Park. In Istanbul, in the Yenikapı district, police detained 14 participants, 10 for “terrorist propaganda” and 4 for resisting the police. In Konya, at least 11 teenagers were arrested for lighting the Newroz fire and “violating the laws on meetings and demonstrations”; four people were arrested in Hakkari and ten in Adana. In his message to the participants, Selahattin Demirtaş from his cell “hailed the resistance of each and every one of you” (Ahval). Party co-chair Pervin Buldan said in Istanbul: “These efforts to close [the HDP] are proof that the government is finished, about to collapse.” In Muş, the deposed mayor of Bulanık district, Adnan Topçu, was sentenced to eight years and six weeks in prison for “belonging to a terrorist organisation”. In Ankara, a court sentenced Selahattin Demirtaş to three years and six months in prison for “insulting the president” in connection with a speech he gave in December 2015. According to his lawyer, he responded by telling the court: “My only regret about this speech is that I said too little” (WKI). On the 25th, the trial of the “Saturday Mothers” began. These are women who since 1995 have been organising weekly rallies in Istanbul’s Galatasaray Square to demand justice for their relatives who disappeared in the 1980s and 1990s after being abducted by alleged state agents. The number of those disappeared is in the hundreds. The 46 people on trial include women from the group as well as human rights activists, journalists and other male and female protesters. On trial for refusing to disperse at their 700th rally in 2018, which had been banned, the defendants face up to three years in prison. “It is not us who should be tried, but those who made our children, brothers and sisters disappear”, one of the defendants, Jiyan Tosun, told reporters before the hearing (Reuters). On the 27th, a court in Elaziğ sentenced in the final hearing of the “KCK Silopi” case 12 people to sentences ranging from 7 years and 3 months to 8 years in prison, for a total of 99 years. Among them, the deposed co-mayor of Cizre (Şırnak) district, Berivan Kutlu, received 7 years and 3 months (Kurdistan Women). In Urfa, 19 people, mostly Kurds, were sentenced to five months in prison for organising a rally in memory of the victims of the 10 October 2015 bombing in Ankara against pro-Kurdish organisations by ISIS (WKI). The scandalous situation of political prisoners in the country also continues. On the 4th, it was announced that Kurdish political prisoner Hayrettin Yılmaz had died in his cell in Afyonkarahisar. He was 65 years old, suffering from lung cancer and a tuberculosis contracted in prison, and his treatment had been interrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic, and he had been refused release on medical grounds. He had less than a year left to serve (Kurdistan au Féminin). In the middle of the month, anonymous messages posted on social networks reported that the imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan had died at the beginning of March, causing concern among his lawyers and several Kurdish political and cultural organisations. But at the end of the month, prison authorities allowed the prisoner a short telephone call with his brother. Öcalan’s lawyers have recently been repeatedly denied the right to meet their client, who has been held in solitary confinement for years in contravention of the UN’s “Mandela Rules” (WKI). Finally, the Turkish government persists in its irrational denial of the existence of a Kurdish population on its territory: the textbook prepared by the Ministry of Education for primary school children, which is supposed to help them “discover the capacities of their regions in terms of production, culture, art and geography”, characterises the language spoken in Diyarbakir as “similar to Baku Turkish” in Azerbaijan. The 204-page book makes no mention of “Kurds” or the “Kurdish language”. As for Newrouz, written as “Nevruz”, it is said to be an “ancient Central Asian tradition”. Finally, the city of Diyarbakir is described as dangerous: “Natural disasters, violence, drug addiction, road accidents and sexual abuse are some of the risks one can encounter [in the city]”. One should add to this list the anti-Kurdish racism of the editors...


The issue of the fate of family members of foreign jihadists detained by the Autonomous Administration of North-East Syria (AANES), i.e. the Rojava administration, is becoming increasingly pressing. The AANES has been calling for months for the repatriation of foreign nationals from its internment camps, but most European governments have turned a deaf ear due to a very hostile public opinion. Moreover, the AANES proposal to create a special tribunal under the aegis of the UN to allow for an on-the-spot trial in accordance with international standards has not met with any response. Neither repatriation nor local trial: the countries of origin seem to wash their hands of the fate of their nationals, including children, whose number in the Rojava camps was estimated by UNICEF on 28 February at “more than 22,000 of 60 nationalities”. The Kurdish authorities find themselves abandoned as they struggle to control the camps, where the situation is deteriorating in a worrying way. First of all in terms of security: since January, Al-Hol, which is home to nearly 65,000 people, including 10,000 foreigners of 53 nationalities, has seen 31 murders, including 25 with firearms, according to Kurdish officials. This is more than likely the work of active members of ISIS cells. The majority of the victims are Iraqis or Syrians. In early March, two more young Iraqis and a Syrian woman were murdered with silenced pistols in Al-Hol. By 9 March, the number of murders had risen to 37 (WKI). There are also more and more accidents: on 27 February, a kerosene stove fire killed six people, including five children. Sanitary conditions are also deteriorating, with Al-Hol being the most unhealthy camp. Even basic medical care is no longer provided, and a dozen French women went on hunger strike at the end of February to demand their repatriation with their children. They had been preceded on 1st February by a 55-year-old mother, Pascale Descamps, whose daughter suffers from a colon tumour. Moreover, the Turkish invasions have led to a reduction in the number of guards. According to a security source, the AANES “could not cope with a widespread uprising in the camps”, at a time when ISIS reconstitutes its cells in eastern Syria, where security is steadily deteriorating. In a report to the Security Council published at the end of January (, the UN experts expressed concern about the radicalisation taking place in these camps, where “minors are said to be indoctrinated and prepared to become future fighters”. The newspaper Le Monde wrote on 1st March: “All terrorism experts are calling for repatriation and trials in France, in order to avoid clandestine returns that could one day lead to attacks”. Indeed, the detained jihadists are raising their heads, organising trials, convictions and escapes while waiting for the return of the “caliphate”. On the 3rd, the NGO Médecins sans Frontières announced the “temporary” suspension of its activities in Al-Hol after the death of one of its employees who lived in the camp with his family. Also for security reasons, most of the foreign detainees in Al-Hol were transferred to an extension of the Roj camp (2,000 residents), considered more secure. As for the most radical ones, they are hiding or have already escaped, like Hayat Boumedienne, who is now reportedly in Idlib. These escapes, which are becoming more and more numerous, are also aggravating the security situation in Rojava. Former detainees of al-Hol, escaped or even released, have according to the Syrian authorities joined the jihadist cells of the central desert of Badia al-Sham rather than returning to their villages (RFI). On 27 February, for the first time, a delegation of French parliamentarians arrived in Erbil to try to visit the camps of Al-Hol and Roj where, after the repatriation of 150 minors, more than 120 French women and 300 children are still detained (Le Figaro). But despite spending two days at the border post, they were refused passage by Syrian Kurdish authorities, who argued security problems, whereas since early January, Belgian, Austrian and Catalan delegations had been able to visit the camps. The four parliamentarians blamed pressure from France (Ouest France). However, a window of opportunity may have opened on 4 March, when Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told parliament that Belgium should “do everything” to repatriate the 30 or so Belgian children of jihadists: “To leave them [in these camps] is to ensure that they become tomorrow’s terrorists”, he said. The case of the 13 adult women could also be examined. Along with France, Belgium is the European country with the most nationals who have left to join jihadist organisations in Syria: over 400 (AFP). In the wake of the Belgian decision, the French delegation wrote to the President of the Republic to ask for a meeting on the situation of children. In addition, during the debate on Syria in the European Parliament on the tenth anniversary of the uprising, the Green group succeeded in having an amendment adopted calling on EU Member States “to repatriate all European children” taking into account “the best interests of the child” (Le Monde). At dawn on the 28th, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in an effort to reduce the influence of ISIS in Al-Hol, launched a large-scale security operation in the camp involving some 5,000 security personnel with the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the police. The operation, which is expected to last 10 days, is supported by the international coalition. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), “some thirty women and men suspected of supporting ISIS have been arrested”; the SDF announced 9 arrests, including that of a commander (AFP). On the 30th, after three days of operation, the internal security forces announced the arrest of 53 jihadists, including five commanders, stating that the operation aimed to “ensure the safety and stability of all the residents of the camp, especially the children, and save them from the danger of terrorist ideas” (ANF). The previous day, on 29 September, SDF Commander-in-Chief Mazloum Abdi had reiterated his call on foreign countries to repatriate their nationals and “provide more humanitarian support to al-Hol in order to improve the conditions and stability in the camp”. The fight against ISIS has also continued outside the camps, particularly in the province of Deir Ezzor, close to the Iraqi border, where attacks have continued to increase. Supposedly “defeated”, ISIS still has according to the UN some 10,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria, not counting its 11,000 detained members or their wives and children held in camps (AFP). Early March, an 80-year-old man in the town of al-Sabha and two others in Shi’il and Shaafah were killed. The SDF launched several raids in the area and arrested seven jihadists, and then announced the capture of two of the perpetrators of the January beheading murders of two local female politicians in Hassakeh province. But another local female official was abducted and beheaded in Shi’il in early March. According to statistics published by the Asayish (Kurdish Security), the SDF carried out 14 coalition-backed raids in February, while in the same period, 24 attacks caused the death of 12 civilians. Joint operations between the SDF and the coalition continued in Deir Ezzor in the second week of March, leading to the arrest of nine jihadists, including an officer. A young man from the village of Sabi was abducted and murdered. The SDF was able to capture ten jihadists the following week (WKI). Further south in Badia, jihadists also launched attacks against regime forces, in which a dozen casualties were recorded on each side, and which provoked a strong Russian air response the following week (WKI). On the 23rd, the SDF said it was now “at the most difficult stage of [its] fight against terrorism”. This already delicate situation was further aggravated by the continuous attacks by the Turkish army and its Syrian mercenaries on AANES-controlled areas, particularly near the towns of Manbij and Ain-Issa. In the second week of March, one child was killed in Manbij, and another died after an attack by stepping on unexploded ordnance. There was fighting between the SDF and jihadists on the 15th near the M4 highway, which the Turks seem increasingly determined to control in order to cut Rojava in two. To this end, they have recently set up new outposts north of the highway (WKI), including an air defence base near Raqqa, their fourth established in Syria (Ahval). On the 16th and 17th, clashes escalated as Turkish-backed Syrian rebels launched several new attacks near Ain Issa, including on the villages of Saida and Mi’alagh. The SDF announced that at least three rebels had been killed and one of their military vehicles destroyed during an infiltration attempt. Repelled twice, the rebels continued shelling nearby villages. These Turkish-rebel attacks continue despite the agreement reached in early December between the SDF, the Russians and the Damascus regime for the creation of several observation points to put an end to them. According to the local Hawar news agency (ANHA), they have killed at least nine civilians and wounded 16 (Kurdistan-24). In response, the SDF in turn attacked the Turkish base near Ain Issa (Ahval). On the 19th, according to the SDF, one child was killed and five civilians wounded by Turkish shelling, which also targeted Syrian army positions in the same area (Kurdistan-24). From the 20th, the fighting escalated again: for the first time since Operation Peace Spring (October 2019), “a Turkish fighter jet targeted SDF military positions in the village of Saida, near Ain Issa” (SOHR). “Clashes have continued between the two sides for 24 hours [...]; Turkish forces are struggling to advance while the SDF managed to destroy a Turkish tank”, the SOHR director told AFP. Violent clashes continued on the 21st, as the SDF refused to hand over to the Turks and their mercenaries the villages they had just cleared of mines to allow the resettlement of civilians (AFP). At the same time, Turkey continued to launch indirect attacks on the Chahba region (Aleppo) and several areas near the Christian town of Tal Tamer (WKI). On the 27th, a Russian mediation allowed an exchange of bodies between the two sides; pro-Turkish fighters returned seven bodies to the SDF (Kurdistan-24). On the 30th, the Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) reported a death toll of 37 pro-Turkish fighters and at least 12 SDF members, as well as a repulsed pro-Turkish ground assault on the Christian town of Tal Tamer. Moreover, in a more general context of drought throughout the region, Turkey and its proxies continue to use water as a weapon against Rojava. According to engineer Ahmed Asso, who works at the Tishrin hydroelectric plant on the Euphrates, the flow from Turkey, normally 500 cubic metres per second, has dropped to 200. Electricity production has been reduced to 10% of the needs of northern Syria, resulting in numerous blackouts (VOA). While harassing Rojava, Turkey continues its sinister policy of abuses, ethnic cleansing and creeping annexation in the areas it controls. According to the Hawar News Agency (ANHA), a 67-year-old man (73 according to the SOHR) abducted on 21 February in the Rajo region (Afrin) by the jihadist faction “Legion of Sham” was tortured to death in a detention centre. According to the newspaper Al-Monitor, he was buried without the presence of his family (according to the SOHR, however, his body was returned to them). The victim’s son, who resettled in Aleppo after the Turkish invasion of Afrin, said that the motive for the murder was the theft of his olive grove. According to Al-Monitor, two other elderly people were also abducted by the group, already known for its numerous crimes and looting against the local population, and their fate remains unknown. Other recent kidnappings for ransom have included the kidnapping of several civilians from the village of Kamruk on the 9th. Ibrahim Sheikho, the spokesperson of the Afrin Human Rights Organisation, gives a terrible account of the Turkish occupation: “More than 7,400 civilian men, women and children have been detained in militia prisons since the occupation of Afrin [in 2018], of whom 3,500 are unknown” (Al-Monitor). Furthermore, in violation of international law, Turkey continues to arrest people on Syrian territory and transfer them to its own soil, or even try them there. AFP reported on 15 September that Turkish intelligence agents had captured a YPG brigade leader, Ibrahim Babat, on Syrian territory and brought him back to Turkey for interrogation (Anatolia). In addition, a YPJ member, Çiçek Kobane, captured in 2019 during a Turkish operation in Syria, was sentenced on the 23rd to life imprisonment for “plotting against the unity and integrity of the state” and an additional ten years for murder (Ahval). Beyond the daily exactions and looting, Turkey is pursuing the long-term transformation of its Syrian occupation zones into veritable protectorates ready for annexation: ethnic cleansing against the Kurds, driven out and replaced by the families of Ankara’s mercenaries, Arabs but also many Turkmen, prohibition of the Kurdish language and imposition of Turkish as the language of education. But Ankara is also setting up a local administration integrated with that of the adjacent Turkish provinces: the north of Aleppo is under administration of the governor of Gaziantep, Afrin on that of Hatay, and Tall Abyad and Ras Al-Ain on Sanliurfa... The Turkish lira has become the main currency, at the expense of the Syrian currency; chambers of commerce oriented towards Turkey and even Turkish post offices have opened. But as noted in the report by Syrian researcher Khayrallah Al-Hilu, The Turkish Intervention in Northern Syria: One Strategy, Discrepant Policies ( published in January by the European University Institute in Florence, the insecurity and terror maintained by Ankara’s auxiliaries and the low level of Turkish investment in rehabilitating local infrastructure hardly suggest that the economy of these areas will recover. Perhaps the occupier prefers to keep them dependent? In any case, the alibi invoked by Ankara at the beginning of its invasions, to create “security zones” where exiled Syrians could return, hardly holds: these territories have largely become “insecurity zones” where no Syrian exile has returned (Le Monde). Denunciations of Turkish abuses in Rojava continue to mount, but unfortunately they have no concrete effect. On 1st March, the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic published a report entitled A Decade of Arbitrary Detention and Imprisonment which calls for an end to these practices. The authors write: “Tens of thousands of people in Syria are unlawfully deprived of their liberty at any given time. Arbitrary detention and imprisonment have been deliberately instrumentalised to instil fear and suppress dissent among the civilian population or, less frequently, for financial reasons. Armed groups have also targeted religious and ethnic minorities”. But the UN has been criticised by local human rights groups for its inaction. For its part, the Egyptian Maat Foundation for Peace, Development and Human Rights (, published a report (in Arabic) entitled Crimes of Pro-Turkish Factions in Northeast Syria. On the basis of this report, it submitted a written statement on Afrin and Shengal to the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council (RojInfo). This statement, after describing the violations, points to the responsibility of Turkey, the occupying power: “The factions of the national army or the military or civilian police could not commit such violations if Turkey did not tolerate them”. Maat then calls on all actors involved in Syria and NGOs to put pressure on the Turkish government “to stop human rights violations and arbitrary arrests in areas under the control of these forces” in Northern Syria. With regard to Sindjar, Maat calls, among other things, for the establishment of a no-fly zone. Finally, on the 11th, the European Parliament adopted a resolution which, among other things (point 7), “calls on Turkey to withdraw its troops from northern Syria, which it is illegally occupying outside any UN mandate; condemns the illegal transfers of Kurdish Syrians organised by Turkey from occupied northern Syria to Turkey for detention and prosecution, in violation of Turkey’s international obligations under the Geneva Conventions”, and calls for the immediate repatriation of the Syrians already transferred. As the text of the petition addressed to the French President on the 25th, “Stop the ethnic cleansing in Afrin” ( points out: “These [Turkish] war crimes are known, widely documented and denounced by Kurdish and international NGOs, but they remain unpunished because Turkey is a NATO ally”. The European Parliament cannot back up its resolutions with concrete action any more than NGOs or UN agencies can. But a state like France can ask for an international commission of enquiry to be sent to the scene, which could force the Turkish troops and the mercenaries in their pay to withdraw.


Negotiations between Baghdad and Erbil continued throughout the month on the 2021 budget. Several outstanding disputes have been delaying the passage of the bill for months, particularly regarding the share of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Faced with public discontent over the delay, the federal parliament wanted to vote on the text in the first week of March, but failed to do so, and delayed the debate until the 15th. In the end, the vote on the text could not take place on 15 October because of violent disagreements over another draft law: the Shiite religious blocs proposed adding four Islamic jurists (faqih) to the nine judges of the Iraqi Federal Court, who would have had the same right of veto over the new laws as their colleagues. Secular deputies, especially Kurdish ones, fearing that this provision would lead the country towards the Islamisation of the State, violently opposed the text. In addition, there were still disagreements between Erbil and Baghdad on the Kurdistan budget, while a delegation from the KRG had just postponed its visit to Baghdad... Finally, it returned to Baghdad on the 19th and obtained an agreement in the evening, which was then validated by the Finance Committee, but the vote on the budget was still delayed by requests from deputies who wanted to modify certain provincial budgets (WKI). The date for the budget discussion was again delayed several times. On the 29th, first scheduled for noon and then in the evening, the session was cancelled due to new disagreements on the share of Kurdistan and the opposition of some blocs to the dinar-dollar exchange rate used in the calculations! (Kurdistan-24) Finally, it was only on the 31st, late in the evening, that the parliament managed to pass the budget law. The deputies first adopted an amended version of Article 11 on the share allocated to Kurdistan, then the other articles were voted by a majority of Arab and Kurdish legislators (Rûdaw). Amounting to 164.4 trillion dinars (about $112 billion) with a deficit of about $43 billion, the budget derives 97% of its revenue from the sale of 3.25 million barrels per day (including 250,000 from Kurdistan), estimated on the basis of a barrel of crude oil at $45. The text foresees that Kurdistan will receive 12.67% of the country’s total budget. In exchange, the KRG undertakes to produce a minimum of 460,000 barrels per day and then, after deducting its production and transport costs and its own consumption, it must hand over to Baghdad the income from the export of 250,000 barrels, calculated at the standard price of the State Oil Company SOMO. According to the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Bashir Haddad, Articles 10 and 11, which concern the Kurdistan Region, were voted in the presence of 215 deputies out of a total of 329 (Kurdistan-24). KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani welcomed the vote and said it helped restore “a ray of hope” for better relations between the KRG and the federal government (Reuters). This month of March was also marked by the unprecedented visit of Pope Francis, who stayed in the country from the 5th to the 7th. On the 6th, he met Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani for 45 minutes in Najaf. The spiritual leader of the Iraqi Shiites told him that the Christians of Iraq should “live in peace and security”. He then flew to the north of the country, arriving first in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region, where he was welcomed by local politicians and clergy, before going on to Mosul, then to the Christian town of Karakosh, further east. On Sunday evening, he celebrated his biggest mass in Iraq in the Franso Hariri stadium in front of thousands of faithful. The same evening he met the father of little Alan Kurdi, the young Syrian Kurdish boy who drowned in the Aegean Sea in 2015 and became a tragic symbol of the refugee crisis. “The Pope spoke at length with Abdullah Kurdi”, who now lives in Iraqi Kurdistan, a Vatican statement said, while the Pope has made the reception of refugees one of the major themes of his pontificate. During his speeches, he called for peace in the Middle East and “in particular in martyred Syria” (AFP), and also thanked Iraqi Kurdistan for having offered refuge to Christians displaced during the ISIS attack. After the papal visit, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustafa al Kadhimi, addressed the country, thanking the Pope in particular for promoting dialogue, tolerance and peace. He himself called for a “deep and sincere” national dialogue to overcome the decades of differences between the KRG and the federal government. Kurdish leaders expressed their support for his initiative (WKI). With regard to the Covid-19 epidemic, after a relatively calm period following the summer wave, Iraq entered a new phase of increasing cases in February, which was further amplified in March. By comparison, there were “only” 984 new cases on 1st February, with about 10 deaths, but by 1st March, after an increase even more rapid than at the beginning of the summer, there were daily 3,599 new cases and 20 deaths. Similarly, in Kurdistan the number of new cases rose from 107 on 1st February to 199 on 3 March (KRG data from The Kurdish Region therefore followed the example of the rest of Iraq by imposing new restrictions aimed at curbing this resurgence. On the 14th, the regional government, issuing a warning for Newrouz, put students on holiday from 11th to 28th. Health Ministry spokesman Aso Hawezi described the situation as “worrying”, particularly because of the arrival of the so-called “English variant”, the first five cases of which were detected in Kurdistan in mid-February. “We are currently at the beginning of a new wave”, cardiologist Bestoon Mustafa told Rûdaw. Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the Kurdistan Region has recorded 112,695 cases and 3,564 deaths. On the 17th, the Ministry of Health warned that the English variant was spreading rapidly, increasing the pressure on hospitals. By the 18th, for example, there were 512 new cases in Kurdistan (Kurdistan-24). By the end of the month, the spread of the virus had accelerated further, with 981 new cases by the 31st, and the trend of the curve suggests an even greater acceleration in April... In response, the Ministry of Health announced new restrictions on the 30th: return to distance learning in schools and universities until 10 April, closure of cinemas, wedding halls, swimming pools and sports halls, ban on collective funerals and religious ceremonies, closure of cafés, restaurants, shopping centres and bars from 9pm to 6am, compulsory wearing of masks in enclosed public places, ban on travel between Kurdistan and other provinces on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Compliance with these restrictions will be monitored by the security forces, who may impose fines of up to 5 million dinars (Rûdaw). Concerning vaccines, Kurdistan received on the 2nd a batch of 5,000 doses of Sinopharm, which were administered as a priority to health workers. Then on the 26th, Prime Minister Masrour Barzani announced the receipt of 43,800 doses of AstraZeneca (Al-Monitor). In the territories disputed between the KRG and the federal government, ISIS not only retains a significant power of nuisance but, as in northern Syria, has been operating since several months a most disturbing resurgence based on its cellular structure. AFP quotes “an analyst specialising in the IE [Islamic State] who requests anonymity and publishes his research on the Twitter account Mister Q”: “Between the fall of Baghouz (eastern Syria) on 23 March 2019 and the end of February 2021, the EI claimed 5,665 military operations in 30 countries, i.e. eight per day”. Another expert, Tore Hamming, notes that in the Levant, ISIS has benefited from the fact that “the international coalition has suffered from the Covid-19 pandemic and the Trump administration’s desire to reduce US troops in the Middle East”... (AFP) The fault zones of state authority, such as the Iraqi-Syrian desert border region or the Iraqi territories disputed between Baghdad and Erbil, are particularly favourable to the redeployment of small units of jihadist fighters, who use them as safe havens from which to launch their attacks, especially since the Kurdish pechmergas were expelled from the area in October 2017. The area bordering Kirkuk, Diyala and Salahaddin provinces has subsequently become so dangerous that it has acquired the nickname “Triangle of Death”... Already on 24 February, a mortar attack had wounded ten federal policemen near the Daquq district in Kirkuk province, an attack that prompted an Iraqi army operation supported by the Hashd al-Shaabi militia on 28 February. But this did not prevent another attack in the Hawija district the following week, when seven federal policemen were wounded by an improvised explosive device. Security forces raided several ISIS safe havens in the west of the province, seizing weapons caches. The coalition then conducted airstrikes in Makhmur targeting ISIS tunnels and shelters on the borders of Erbil, Kirkuk and Nineveh provinces. Simultaneously, security forces dismantled a jihadist cell in Kirkuk (WKI). Finally, at the end of the month, the coalition and the Iraqi army continued large-scale anti-ISIS strikes in the Makhmur mountains, south of Erbil and Mosul, as part of Operation Ready Lion. According to Colonel Wayne Marotto, at least 312 airstrikes hit 120 hideouts and killed 27 terrorists in this mountainous region (Air Force Magazine). But at the same time, a Hashd al-Shaabi fighter and two federal policemen were killed in the Hawija district (WKI). In addition, tensions remain high in Sinjar. The situation in this predominantly Yezidi district of Nineveh province (Mosul), whose capital bears the same name, has become extraordinarily complex since the irruption of ISIS in the summer of 2014, and the genocide carried out by this organisation against the Yezidis. At the Iraqi level, Sinjar (in Kurdish Shengal) has long been disputed between the KRG and the federal government. Moreover, the PKK movement is well established there since its rescue of the Yezidis in 2014, and has even set up an “autonomous administration” on the model of Rojava. The KRG obviously does not recognise it, but Baghdad, without officially recognising it, and despite the growing tensions between its forces and the pro-PKK militias, has sometimes seemed tempted to use it against Erbil... However, since the Baghdad-Erbil agreement of last October, the security of the district falls to Baghdad, which must recruit a new force from among the local population and expel all the militias. At the regional level, Sinjar also suffers from its strategic position on the Syrian border. Missiles fired from there can even reach Israel, as Saddam Hussein showed in his time. For Iran then, Sinjar is an indispensable crossing point on its route to the Mediterranean, which, arriving from Mahabad and continuing via Qamishlo and Kobane, would pass north of Aleppo to end up at the (Alawite) port of Latakia (Orient XXI). Turkey, for its part, considers the presence in this district of armed groups affiliated to the PKK as a threat, and has threatened on several occasions to take control of its capital in order to cut off the PKK sanctuary of Qandil from Rojava. Besides, as part of his “neo-Ottoman” line, the Turkish president is not exempt of ulterior motives regarding the Mosul Vilayet, which he regularly demands to be attached to Turkey (as Fehin Tastekin reminds us in Al-Monitor, in addition to Mosul and Kirkuk, this famous vilayet also encompassed... the whole of today’s Iraqi Kurdistan). As a consequence, there has been a diplomatic confrontation between Iran and Turkey, the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad having recently declared on the Kurdish channel Rûdaw that his country did not accept Turkish military interventions in Iraq. His statement prompted a tweet of response from his Turkish counterpart the same day, according to which “Iran should be the last country to lecture Turkey on respecting Iraq’s borders”. As a result, both countries summoned each other’s ambassador, and many Hashd al-Shaabi militias deployed in the city vowed to resist any Turkish incursion (WKI). On 11 November, several local groups close to the PKK organised a march to express their opposition to any Turkish invasion before meeting with Iraqi military officials in the city to ask them to pass on to the government their demand for local autonomy. The demonstration, gathering thousands of Yezidis, expressed their opposition to the Baghdad-Erbil agreement and especially to the ultimatum of the Iraqi government, which had given 24 hours to the Asayish of the autonomous administration to leave the city (Rojinfo). However, the Yezidis are not unanimous on the issue: on 25 September, Haidar Shesho, commander of the Yezidi protection force Ezidkhan, affiliated to the pechmergas, called for the implementation of the Baghdad-Erbil agreement, and thus for the evacuation of the pro-PKK armed groups. He explained being worried that if they do not withdraw voluntarily, the Iraqi army could try to use force, thus triggering a conflict. On the same day, the spokesman for the Iraqi command in Shengal, Tahsin al-Khafaji, said that “the implementation of the agreement [had] started: the federal forces are here and life is returning to normal” (Rûdaw). However, the deadline for the evacuation ultimatum for armed groups had to be extended to early April... In addition, the Iraqi parliament unanimously passed the Yezidi Survivors Bill on 1st March, which entitles survivors to financial compensation while requiring the government to prosecute anyone involved in the genocide. Tensions also persist in Kirkuk, where members of the Hashd al-Shaabi protested against the announced reopening of the KDP office in the city by blocking the building with tents (although it has in fact been used by the Iraqi army since October 2017) (WKI). In addition, Kurds in the city protested against the gradual installation of new Arabic-only signposts, while the old ones included the four languages of its main ethnic groups, in alphabetical order Arabic, Kurdish, Syriac and Turkmen. According to several testimonies of Kurdish residents, the problem goes beyond the signposts: “Most of the time, when we go to a government building and ask for something in Kurdish, we are not answered, and we have to switch to Arabic or Turkmen”, said one of them (Rûdaw). Finally, Kurdistan continues to be hit by shelling or rocket fire. On the 19th, two civilians were injured when their vehicle was targeted by the Turkish army in Sinin (Sidakan), near the Iranian border. On the 25th in the late afternoon, Turkish aircraft bombed a mountainous area in Batifa (Dohuk) after a Turkish base near the village of Gire Biye was attacked by the PKK (Rûdaw). The Turkish army has now set up nearly 40 bases in Iraqi Kurdistan, where its operations have caused the evacuation of nearly 500 villages. On 29 September, at least three rockets fell near the Peshmerga stationed in Sherawa, near the town of Perdi (Altun-Kopri), on the border of Kirkuk and Erbil provinces. There were no casualties or claims of responsibility, but similar incidents in previous months have been widely attributed to groups affiliated with the pro-Iranian Hashd al-Shaabi.


The arrival of the “English variant” of the coronavirus has caused a rapid increase in the number of cases in Iran, in a country already severely affected by the epidemic. On 27 February, the director of the Abu-Zahr paediatric hospital in Ahwaz told state television that before the arrival of the variant, “one in ten children with coronary symptoms was admitted to intensive care, but now it is one in three”. On 28 February, the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI), which makes its own calculation of the number of deaths based on regional data, counted the number of deaths due to the coronavirus in 497 cities in Iran at over 223,100. On 30 March, the same source calculated a total of over 240,200 deaths in 526 cities (CNRI), giving an estimate of over 17,000 deaths in the country during March. By way of comparison, the official figures were 60,073 on 28 February and 62,569 on 30 March (, i.e. almost four times less: the regime continues to try to conceal the seriousness of the health situation... Despite everything, on 1st March, the regime had to announce the highest number of victims for almost two months, and the daily Etemad admitted that the real number of victims was “two and a half times the official number”, i.e. 150,000.The authorities’ contradictory instructions demonstrate their irresponsibility: On the 14th, while the Ministry of Health asked Iranians to refrain from all travel because of the pandemic, the Ministry of the Interior announced that travel to cities in the “blue” and “yellow” zones was authorised on the occasion of Nowrouz... On the 30th, the person in charge of the fight against the epidemic in the capital, Alireza Zali, told the Mehr agency that a third of the patients in Tehran had to go into intensive care (CNRI). In addition, the Centre for Human Rights in Iran sounded the alarm at the end of February about the health situation of political prisoners: “The death of the prisoner of conscience Behnam Mahjoubi, who died on 21 February 2021 due to untreated medical problems, including severe neurological problems, is evidence of the continuing crisis in Iranian prisons, where prisoners, particularly prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, are denied proper medical treatment”. CHRI’s executive director, Hadi Ghaemi, added: “Many prisoners in Iran are in desperate need of medical treatment and others will die if they do not receive immediate care”. Mahjoubi, a member of the persecuted Gonabadi Sufi brotherhood, was sentenced in June 2020 to two years’ imprisonment for “endangering national security” despite a forensic opinion against his imprisonment, and died eight days after several epileptic seizures for which he received no treatment. In these circumstances, and with the spread of the COVID epidemic, it is clear that political prisoners are at risk. The United Nations has expressed concern at Iran’s refusal to provide adequate care to prisoners, which is a violation of both the UN Standard Minimum Rules and Article 118 of the Iranian Public Prison Regulations, which states that “the examination and, if necessary, treatment, of sick prisoners is the responsibility of the prison or training institution” (CHRI). In addition, the shooting of Kurdish cross-border carriers, the kolbars, by the regime’s repressive forces continued during the month. The Hengaw organisation published a report at the beginning of March stating that during the previous month at least 16 kolbars, themselves usually unarmed, had died. According to the report, 7 were killed and 9 injured. Ten of the victims were from Sanandaj province, and more than half of the reported cases involved kolbars shot by border guards (Kurdistan-24). The Kurdish press agency (Kurdpa) and the Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) also reported several cases during March. On the 5th, a resident of Saqqez was seriously injured by soldiers at the Nakhwan border crossing, simply because they suspected him of smuggling. He was taken to hospital in Tabriz, where his family was not allowed to visit him. On the 8th, a kolbar was shot and injured in Nowsud. The same week, another porter froze to death near Chaldiran. On the 13th, the Turkish military tortured to death a kolbar from a group apprehended near the Qutur border crossing. They also confiscated at least 10 horses belonging to the kolbars (RojInfo). The following week, according to Hengaw, two porters were seriously injured near Nowsud and Baneh. Hengaw also reported that on the 22nd, near Khorramabad, Iranian police opened fire on a vehicle suspected of carrying contraband, killing its driver, Mohammad Sadeqi, even though the car turned out to be empty (IHRM). Finally, at the end of the month, another kolbar was injured by border guards near Nowsud, and another died of cold near Salmas on the 17th. More than 25 kolbars have already lost their lives in 2021, most of them killed by the Iranian regime (WKI). Since the beginning of January, the regime has launched a repressive campaign in Kurdistan with the apparent aim of dissuasion. Since January, nearly 150 Kurdish activists have been arrested by the Etelaat (Intelligence), and many were still being held by this organisation at the beginning of March. In addition, on the occasion of Women’s Day on 8 March, Hengaw issued a statement recalling that in 2020 the regime had imprisoned at least 33 Kurdish women, including language teachers and political activists. Hengaw reported that the Etelaat had arrested four people in Marivan and another in Sarvabad on 28 February. The arrival of March did not slow down the crackdown, quite the contrary. The following week, while several activists in Dewalan, Mahabad and Urmia were granted parole, dozens of others, including environmental activists, were arrested in turn in Marivan, Saqqez, Javanrud and Rabat. In Bokan, the activist from the environmental association Walat Simko Maroufi was arrested on 8 October and taken to an unknown location. The security forces operated without a court order and the charges against Maroufi are not known. Already convicted of “disturbing public order and participating in pro-Rojava rallies”, he was released in early December after two years in prison (Kurdpa). On the 10th, the security forces arrested in Tehran a Kurd from Sarvabad, Abdulrahman Abdai (WKI). On 15 October in Marivan, 13 civil society activists were sentenced to 6 months in prison and 30 lashes for participating in a march on 12 October 2019 to denounce Turkish military aggression against the towns of Serê Kaniyê and Girê Spî, in northern Syria (RojInfo), and two other Kurds from the village of Deyvaznav (Servabad), Meraj Mortezaei and Hiwa Azizpour, received one year and five months in prison respectively for “collaboration with a Kurdish opposition party” (Kurdpa). The following week, Rasoul Hamzapour, the Kurdish imam of the village of Andizeh in the district of Lajan (Piranshahr), was sentenced in Ouroumieh to three years’ imprisonment for “nationalist and sectarian propaganda against the state”. During his pre-trial detention, the cleric was only allowed to make brief phone calls to his family and was also denied family visits and access to a lawyer. In Mahabad, a 15-year-old Kurdish boy, Pishawa Rahmanifar, was arrested for “supporting an opposition party” (Kurdpa). On the 22nd, the Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN) reported in its monthly report that at least 14 Kurdish citizens and activists had been arrested in one month in seven different cities in Iranian Kurdistan, 30 others had been interrogated and then released, and two executions had taken place during the same period. On the 23rd, the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRNA) confirmed that the provincial appeals court had upheld the five-year prison sentences handed down by the Piranshahr Revolutionary Court to each of the three activists Shoresh Abdullah Nejad, Najmaddin Sokhnour and Salah Ali from the village of Girgolsofli, for collaboration and membership of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (Kurdaw). Finally, also on the 23rd, the UN Human Rights Council decided to extend once again the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for Iran, Javid Rahman, appointed more than three years ago, because of the worrying human rights situation in Iran. His mandate has been extended every year despite the fact that he has never been able to get permission to visit the country, according to Radio France International... Unfortunately, we must add to this chronicle the repression exercised against the Kurds who wanted to organise or participate in the Newrouz festivities, even though it is a festival celebrated throughout Iran! But for the Kurds of Iran, Newrouz has become the symbol of resistance against their oppressors. The security services therefore arrested more than ten participants in these gatherings, notably in Marivan, Sanandaj and Saqqez, as well as in several villages, such as Ney, near Marivan or Qaleh Kohneh near Saqqez (RojInfo)... In Oshnavieh, peshmerga from the banned Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran entered the town with their weapons to march with Kurdish flags ( They deployed for several hours in some neighbourhoods to show their solidarity with the residents (WKI). In Baneh, four residents, all belonging to the Ghaderi family, were arrested on the morning of the 25th by the security forces. Although the security forces did not show any warrant specifying the reason for their arrest, it may have been in connection with the celebration of Newrouz in the village of Yaqubabad. They have been held incommunicado and efforts by their relatives to locate them have been unsuccessful (Kurdpa). By the 30th, there were about twenty arrests for organising or participating in Newrouz, in some cases with Kurdish songs and flags. In addition, the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Sanandaj sentenced Kurdish activist Hussein Kamankar, who has been imprisoned since January 2019, to 15 years’ imprisonment for membership of a Kurdish party. Finally, Hengaw reported that Etelaat prevented the family and friends of a Kurdish activist who died in Norway, Jamal Mirazei, from holding a memorial service in Saqqez (WKI).