In May, the AKP-MHP regime pursued the repression launched months ago against the “pro-Kurdish” Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), while ensuring that its former co-chairman, Selahattin Demirtaş, imprisoned since November 2016, would remain incarcerated: the Turkish Court of Cassation has indeed confirmed his sentence to four years and eight months in prison. This relentlessness shows to what extent Demirtaş, despite his imprisonment, continues to frighten the Turkish power... The latter still ignores the two binding judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which ordered his release.
The month of May began very symbolically with the arrest in Istanbul of 220 people who dared to march for Labour Day on 1st of May. The pretext given was the failure to respect the rules of confinement. Then on the 18th, the so-called “Kobanê” mega-trial resumed in the Sincan prison complex, near Ankara. The 108 defendants, all HDP leaders or elected representatives, are charged with supporting the 2014 demonstrations, the repression of which left 38 dead, mostly HDP members or supporters murdered by the government, its security forces and their Islamist supporters. Shrinking from no ignominy, the government now tries to make the accused responsible for these deaths that it itself ordered. The objective is clear: to make the HDP disappear from the political arena before the 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections by banning the party and imposing numerous aggravated life sentences. The first hearing was held on 26 April in a partially empty room for “sanitary reasons”, but where 300 police officers occupied so many seats that the defence lawyers and the defendants had to protest to gain entry. The defence was denied the right to speak and later withdrew in protest at this travesty of justice. Forced to participate remotely from his cell through the infamous SEGBIS video transmission system, Selahattin Demirtaş denounced the trial as “a case of political revenge against the HDP”, while the real masterminds of the massacre were “the state and government officials” standing behind “the governors, district governors and police chiefs” who committed it. At the next hearing, on 20 May, the former mayor of Diyarbakir, Gültan Kışanak, also intervening remotely from her cell in Kandira, in turn denounced a parody of justice, directly attacking the judges to demand their recusal because of their lack of independence: “The aim of this trial is to make us disappear from democratic political life and from Parliament. You have shown very well that you do not follow an independent jurisdiction or any law. For this reason, I ask for the recusal of your Court”. Recalling that those responsible for the killings on 6-8 October 2014 during the protests against the siege of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane have not been investigated by any court, Ms. Kışanak asked: “Who killed these people and why, who gave orders to these provocateurs? I wish that instead of judging us there would be a judicial investigation into these issues”. The HDP said that the trial was an unprecedented spectacle of “a Turkish court defending ISIS”. The trial was adjourned to 14 June.
On 28 May, an Ankara court again sentenced Demirtaş to a prison term, this time two years and six months, for “insulting” a prosecutor close to the Turkish president, Yüksel Kocaman: accusing him of having drafted the indictment against him and other Kurdish politicians “in defiance of the principles of the law”, Demirtaş had said in his defence that he would “hold him to account” (AFP). Again, this is clearly a pretext to keep him incarcerated. Kocaman, who had exposed for all to see the appalling state of his judicial “independence” when he visited the Presidency for his wedding last September, obligingly filed a complaint against the jailed Kurdish leader (Turkish Minute).
Using the HDP as a scapegoat is also a way for the regime to divert attention from its own failures: a catastrophic economic situation and the calamitous management of the pandemic, whose figures, with 200 to 300 deaths per day, are reaching new heights. The president did not hesitate to contradict his health minister, who announced a shortage of vaccines (Bianet), before announcing on the 12th a new three-week general lockdown, from which foreign tourists are nevertheless excluded: given the collapse of Turkish lira, this influx of foreign currency must be preserved! If public opinion admits the necessity of such measures, the brutal use of presidential decrees to impose them, their inequitable character (the presidential party escaped any health restriction during its gigantic meetings), the inclusion in the rules of a ban on the sale of alcohol... all these elements have only reinforced popular discontent. As vaccination stalls, a recent tweet sums up the general feeling: “If you don’t vaccinate me, I’ll bite the tourists!” (Washington Post).
The repression of the HDP and civil society has thus further intensified, sometimes taking petty forms. For example, HDP MP Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, imprisoned since March in Sincan, was refused the distribution of newsletters sent by his party, as the prison administration deemed them to come from “risky” media. His son, Salih Gergerlioğlu, who made his father’s situation known in an interview with Firat news agency, recalled that “the right to information, to receive news [...] is a fundamental right" (Ahval). On the 24th, police arrested more than 60 people, mostly HDP members, in Diyarbakir (16 arrests), Adana (20 arrests), Antalya, Ankara, Mardin, Mersin, Dersim, Sirnak and Istanbul. Among those detained are several local HDP leaders. In Adana, politicians and musicians are among the 20 people arrested, including Kurdish artists Jiyan Savcı (Koma Qerin) and Ilyas Arzu (Koma Pel), members of the Dem music centre. On the 28th, four of those arrested were remanded in custody on charges of “terrorism” on the basis of anonymous testimonies, a practice that has become infamous in the Turkish judicial system under the orders of the President, while the others were kept in custody.
As for civil society activists, the courts have not forgotten them. On 21 May, the Istanbul Criminal Court began the retrial of Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala and 15 others for their role in the 2013 nationwide protests to preserve Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Kavala and eight others accused of organising the protests were acquitted of all charges in February 2020, but an appeals court overturned that ruling in January. Kavala, who has been jailed for three-and-a-half years, is also accused of espionage in connection with the 2016 coup attempt. These fabricated charges were combined with the Gezi case in February. Addressing the judges via the SEGBİS system, Kavala compared the definition of espionage presented in the indictment to the “concept of Landesverrat (betrayal of the country) used for espionage charges in Germany during the Nazi period”... The court ruled by majority vote that Kavala should remain in custody, with the senior judge offering a dissenting opinion. The next hearing in the case will take place on 6 August (Duvar).
Finally, the Turkish state is still notable for its continuous anti-Kurdish exactions. Everyone remembers the case of those two Kurdish peasants thrown out of a military helicopter last September after a clash between the Turkish army and the PKK... This 8 May, it is a young man from Dersim, Murat Yildiz, descendant of Seyid Reza, the leader of the 1938 Dersim Revolt, who was victim of the military. Before setting off by car to collect mushrooms in the Ovacik district, Yildiz had taken care to ask the authorities for permission and to choose an authorised area: access to certain areas remains forbidden because of regular clashes between the army and the PKK. His father bore witness that the young man had not realised that he was being watched by a Turkish drone, which opened fire on his vehicle: “It was deliberate. [...] They [attacked] him when they saw that there was another passenger in the vehicle”. Turkish commanders reportedly told Yildiz’s family that they had destroyed the vehicle because it was carrying PKK fighters; the Turkish Interior Ministry said its forces had killed three Kurdish fighters in clashes with the PKK in the same district. Dersim HDP MP Alican Onlu visited the family of the deceased (Rûdaw).
Besides, three ultra-nationalists attacked the HDP office in Ankara with stones on the night of the 14th, causing material damage (WKI).
On the 10th, the Öğüt family’s lawyers appealed to the Constitutional Court against the Supreme Court of Appeal’s decision to acquit three military officers in the case of the death of nine members of the family, including seven children, in the fire in the village of Altınova (Vartinis) in 1993. On 2 October 1993, after the death of a non-commissioned officer during clashes with the PKK, the gendarmes had accused the local villagers of hiding the Kurdish fighters responsible. Driving through the village of Altınova to bring back the body, they had fired shots in the air and threatened to return in the evening to burn the village. When the village was actually burnt down at around 3 a.m., the villagers at first thought it was a PKK attack... The soldiers prevented them from putting out the fire. While most of the villagers were able to leave their homes, two adults and seven children from the Öğüt family were burned to death in their homes. The only survivor was Aysel Öğüt, who was sleeping at neighbours’. It was she who brought the case to court shortly after the incident. Unsuccessfully: the public prosecutor’s office did not find grounds for a trial, claiming that the attack had been carried out by terrorists and that the real perpetrators were unknown. Aysel Öğüt returned to court in 2003. This time, as the defendants were still on duty, the case was transferred to military justice, which buried it. In a fourth attempt in 2011, four officers, including the captain who ordered the fire, Bülent Karaoğlu, were acquitted by a high criminal court. The lawyers then went to appeal, and this time the Supreme Court of Appeal found Karaoğlu responsible for the deaths, but acquitted three other officers who were also at the scene. If the Constitutional Court does not rule before October 2023, the case will be dropped (SCF). One can measure the degree of obstinacy needed to seek justice when you are a Kurd in Turkey...
Other traumas from the same period were brought back to the surface this month when it was reported that bulldozers had started digging up the Newala Qesaba (the “Valley of the Butchers”) in the Bitlis region. This entire valley is a huge mass grave where the remains of many Kurds killed extra-judicially in the 1980s-1990s by JITEM and at least 300 PKK guerrillas, including one of its main commanders, Mahsun Korkmaz (“Egîd”), were buried. It should also be recalled that this valley had already been used as a mass grave during the Armenian genocide of 1915, although there is no precise idea of the number of victims buried there. No announcement has been made about the reasons for the work that has begun, but according to the research of journalist Oktay Candemir, it is to build a police academy on the site. It was the province’s governor Osman Hacıbektaşoğlu, appointed in an authoritarian way to replace the democratically elected mayors Berivan Helen Işık and Peymandara Turhan, who were removed from office and arrested, then placed under house arrest, who authorised this work (Kurdistan au Féminin).
It is necessary to recall what was JITEM, Jandarma İstihbarat ve Terörle Mücadele, in English “Gendarmerie Intelligence and Anti-Terrorism Service”. At the beginning, the very existence of this service, which carried out numerous extrajudicial killings against the Kurds, was denied by state officials. It was not until the Susurluk scandal in 1996 that former Prime Ministers Bülent Ecevit and Mesut Yılmaz admitted its existence.
However, the families of all the victims of this state and illegal organisation, the true incarnation of the "deep state" (derin devlet), are now experiencing new hope. Perhaps in connection with the revelations broadcast for several weeks by the exiled mafia leader Sedat Peker, the Turkish Court of Appeal overturned on the 23rd the decision to acquit 19 people who were prosecuted for the enforced disappearance and arbitrary execution of 19 Kurdish civilians in the 1990s. The then Interior Minister Mehmet Ağar and his co-accused are expected to be retried.
While the spotlight is on Turkish military operations beyond the borders, in Iraqi Kurdistan or in Rojava, clashes between the Turkish army and the PKK also continue on Turkish territory. In the middle of the month, the army imposed a curfew of several days in the district of Kulp (Diyarbakir), while several Kurdish sources reported the launch of an anti-PKK operation in the area. On the 19th, the PKK announced that it had launched a “high impact” air attack on the Diyarbakir air base during the night, without divulging any details. The Turkish authorities confirmed an attack using model aircrafts, claiming that there were no casualties. On the evening of the 20th, a military drone base in Batman was attacked in the same way, as well as an infantry base in Şırnak (Rûdaw). At the end of the month, the Turkish army launched an anti-PKK operation near the town of Hizan (Bitlis).
The military continues to show little respect for civilians in its area of operations. On 18 June in Derecik (Hakkari), two young men named Şahap Şendol (23) and Celil Ekinci (17) were injured by the military. The former had two fingers amputated, while the latter had to undergo three operations for serious back injuries. On the 23rd, an 18-year-old Kurdish shepherd, Mehmet Dinç, was seriously injured in the leg by soldiers in the same area while grazing his flock of sheep. He had to be hospitalised. Derecik is a heavily militarised area. A military garrison there houses Syrian mercenaries brought to support the invasion operation launched by the Turkish army against South Kurdistan (Iraq), on the other side of the border (RojInfo).
On a less military note, the HDP launched a campaign this month to defend the Kurdish language in Turkey. The party has collected millions of signatures to demand recognition of the language as the country’s second language after Turkish, which is currently the only language officially recognised in the constitution. The HDP issued a declaration on Kurdish language day on the 15th. This campaign is linked to the petition launched on 22 February by the “Kurdish Language and Culture Network” with the slogan “Make Kurdish an official language of instruction in Turkey”. To increase the impact of the campaign, several events have been announced for June by the Network in the Kurdish provinces of Diyarbakir, Van and Şırnak. The first rally will be held in Cizre, followed on the 4th by another in Van, and then on the 7th in Diyarbakir.
The news in May was dominated in Iraqi Kurdistan by an extremely worrying resurgence of ISIS terrorist attacks, particularly in the territories disputed between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Iraqi Federal Government.
Perhaps more worryingly, some of the attacks have taken place in the greater Baghdad area. Between 28 April and 1st of May, four jihadist attacks cost the lives of 18 Iraqis, mainly soldiers, according to security sources (AFP). On the evening of 28 April, in Tarmiya, 20 km north of Baghdad, an attack on a military convoy caused the death of 2 officers and 2 soldiers. The reinforcements called in, also attacked as soon as they arrived, lost 1 officer and 2 soldiers. Meanwhile, in Pirde (Altun Kopru), in the disputed territories north-west of Kirkuk, 6 peshmerga lost their lives in another attack, while near the Syrian border, an officer and an Iraqi soldier were killed by an improvised explosive device as their convoy passed. Finally, on the Iranian border east of Baghdad, in Diyala province, another bomb killed a soldier while two other fighters were injured in a separate attack (Le Monde). Although ISIS has not claimed responsibility for any of these attacks, its modus operandi is recognisable: ambushes at night, carried out in rural areas and targeting law enforcement (RFI). “The terrorists of ISIS have taken advantage of the security gap between the peshmerga and Iraqi forces, which is five kilometres long and 20 kilometres wide”, Nouri Hama-Ali, head of the Kirkuk-Pirde front line, told Kurdistan-24. “We have [...] established security sites in the areas where there is a security vacuum, but the Iraqi government has not allowed the Peshmerga to stay there, so it is their responsibility”, he added. The KRG has renewed its call to form a joint body between Kurdish fighters and the Iraqi army (RFI). On 1st of May, Peshmerga Chief of Staff Jamal Eminki said that the security vacuum between Kurdish and Iraqi troops remained a sanctuary from which jihadists could launch their attacks on security forces, and regretted that Baghdad “did not take seriously” warnings about this. According to Eminki, the KRG and the Iraqi Ministry of Defence did agree to establish four joint security centres between Peshmerga and Iraqi forces, but the agreement has still not been implemented... (Kurdistan-24).
In Kirkuk, a suicide bomber was killed before he could detonate his device outside the city’s security building. Meanwhile, west of Khanaqin, jihadists kidnapped two shepherds and clashed with Hashd al-Shaabi (WKI) militiamen. The pan-Arab newspaper Al-Arabi Al-Jadid reported on the night of the 5th three deadly attacks using light arms against the army, police and oil fields within a few hours in a 50 km radius of the city of Kirkuk (Courrier International). A policeman was killed and two others injured in the attack on the Bay Hassan oil field, where two wells were set on fire – the fire was quickly brought under control (AFP).
These numerous and simultaneous attacks, the presence of terrorists even in the outskirts of Baghdad, all show that, despite the loss of its territory, ISIS is rapidly reconstituting its capabilities. On the 18th, a Peshmerga general, Sirwan Barzani, warned the international community: “This war did not end with the fall of Mosul. The jihadists are too weak to undertake a full-scale offensive like in 2014 but they have the means to create instability and insecurity through their constant harassment. In 2019 alone, we have suffered 400 attacks by ISIS. The facts are clear: ISIS is out for revenge! [...] The international community has responsibilities and we need the international coalition” (Le Point).
In addition, on the 23rd and 24th, unidentified arsonists burned hundreds of hectares of Kurdish farmland in the Laylan and Dibis districts (Kirkuk), as they had done the previous summer. Suspicions are raised about ISIS and Arab nationalists, who have both tried thus in the past to force Kurdish farmers to abandon their land in the disputed territories (WKI).
In the face of such an upsurge in jihadist attacks, it seems that something has finally started to happen in the disputed territories. Mid-May, several joint operations commands between Iraqi and Peshmerga forces, which had been set up but not yet activated, were finally activated in Kirkuk, Makhmur and Khanaqin. While those in Erbil and Baghdad began to function several weeks ago, the activation of another one was announced in Mosul... However, there is still a long way to go: the peshmerga have only a symbolic presence there, with only a few officers assigned to each command.
On the 31st, ISIS released a video showing the execution of a Kurdish policeman, Jalal Baban, captured 19 months earlier near Garmiyan. The cousin of the murdered officer, kidnapped at the same time as him, had been released for ransom, but the jihadists preferred to shoot Baban because of his membership of the local police (Kurdistan-24).
Still on the subject of ISIS, the draft law aimed at establishing a special criminal court for crimes committed by the jihadist organisation passed its first reading in the Kurdistan Parliament on the 4th. It should be definitively approved by a majority in the next session, Khadija Omar, a deputy member of the Law Committee, said on the 7th: “The inclusion of such a law in the legal system of the Kurdistan Region, especially for crimes committed by ISIS against the population of the Kurdistan Region and Kurdish areas outside the administration of the Kurdistan Region [disputed territories], is a very important step towards justice”. She also recalled the scale of the group’s crimes against the Yezidi community. The law will allow the head of the tribunal to request support from the international community by sending judges or investigators experienced in crimes against humanity.
In addition, the head of UNITAD, the UN investigative team tasked since September 2017 with looking into the crimes of ISIS, claimed on the 10th before the members of the UN Security Council that he had gathered evidence of the genocide of the Yezidis. Karim Khan, also a future ICC prosecutor, said he had “clear and irrefutable evidence”. The details he provided are literally chilling: using the laboratories of the University of Mosul, the jihadist group first developed chemical weapons using chlorine from water treatment plants, before testing thallium and nicotine-based compounds on prisoners, thus provoking their death (UNITAD)...
Another subject that has been preoccupying the media this month is the deterioration of human rights in the Kurdistan Region, where several journalists, but also citizens who criticised the authorities or demonstrated against them, have been arrested and then tried since the beginning of the year (AFP). On 16 February 2021, Shivan Said, an activist with a small opposition party, was sentenced to six years in prison for “undermining the security” of Kurdistan. Another activist, Harwiyan Issa, and three journalists, Ayaz Karam, Kohidar Zebari and Sherwan Sherwani, editor-in-chief of the monthly Bashur, were given the same sentence. The international organisation Human Rights Watch pointed to the “lack of access to a lawyer during interrogation and trial”, which KRG adviser Dindar Zebari denied in a letter to the Committee to Protect Journalists. He said that the journalists sentenced on 16 February “had access to lawyers” and that “an appeal is pending”. Kurdish activists claim that the Asayish (Kurdish Security) sometimes arrest without a warrant, only informing the courts afterwards. Criticism of the KRG’s health management seems to be one of the causes of tension: according to an annual report by the US State Department, between January and September 2020, “eight complaints were filed by various officials against the independent journalist Hemin Mamand, who had criticised the management of Covid-19 in Kurdistan on Facebook”. Mr. Mamand was detained for 34 days for “misuse of electronic devices”, a charge regularly used against journalists and activists. In his aforementioned letter, Dindar Zebari refuted any political interference: “The Kurdish government does not interfere in judicial proceedings”, he wrote. On the 4th, the Court of Cassation upheld the six-year prison sentences of the five journalists and activists, accused by the authorities of “relations with foreign entities and with the PKK”. This harsh verdict has heightened the concern of human rights defenders about what appears to be a security crackdown, especially as some of the evidence used in the trial is based, according to HRW, on the testimonies of “secret informants” whom the defence was unable to interview... The five convicts are facing multiple charges: in addition to the “misuse of electronic devices” already mentioned, there is “incitement to demonstrate and destabilise the Region”, “espionage” and “armed” struggle. The journalists had covered the protests against the delayed payment of civil servants’ salaries at the start of the 2020 school year, and the activists had participated in them (AFP).
In another unprecedented development in Kurdistan, the Court of Cassation report alleges that American and German diplomats paid money to the defendants for spying missions. The German consulate called those accusations “absurd”, and the US consulate released a State Department statement to the Kurdish media that recalled Washington’s “commitment” to “freedom of expression” and “respect for the law, including for the judicial process” and called on host countries to respect the work of “American diplomats who – like journalists – meet with different people to do their job”... Canada, France and the European Union have also expressed their concern (RFI), followed on the 12th by the UN (AFP).
Finally, the Turkish military presence in the border areas of the Kurdistan Region is increasingly taking on the appearance of a real invasion. The Kurds of Iraq are now worried that this could lead to a permanent occupation, as has happened in neighbouring Rojava... At the beginning of the month, while the Turkish army was installing at least 2 additional outposts near the village of Kesta, the Turkish Interior Minister, Süleyman Soylu, announced his intention to establish a new military base in Iraqi Kurdistan. At the same time, the Turkish army continued to demonstrate its usual indifference to the collateral damage it caused in the course of its operations: the head of the Kani Masi sub-district told the Kurdish channel Rûdaw that at least 160 hectares of farmland had been destroyed by Turkish air and artillery strikes. Over the next two weeks, Turkey increased its incursions, with air strikes and artillery fire forcing the evacuation of at least ten more villages. In particular, the Turkish air force struck several areas of the Mawat (Suleimaniyeh) district on 8 August. The Turkish Defence Minister, Hulusi Akar, also published a report on the elimination of PKK fighters, which was immediately rejected by the PKK. The Kurdish organisation accused the Turkish army of using chemical weapons against it (WKI).
The Turkish invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan was further intensified in the week of the 11th, when Turkish forces launched a barrage of air strikes on the village of Kista that forced a full evacuation. PKK General Commander Murat Karayilan again accused Turkey of using chemical weapons in Avashin and Metina.
In addition, Turkish border guards regularly fire from their side of the border at people moving inside Iraqi territory. On the 18th, they shot and wounded two young Kurds from Turkey who had crossed the border to retrieve horses that had escaped and were trying to return to their village on the Turkish side. According to Sait Dede, HDP deputy for Hakkari, the soldiers thereafter refused to assist the wounded, letting them bleed, and when, after an hour, villagers who had come to help the wounded asked for a vehicle to transport them, the soldiers accused them of being terrorists.
The father of one of the injured youths told Rûdaw that his son was unarmed at the time of the incident and that this was not the first incident in the area. He said that the military later denied firing.
In the third week of the month, the Turkish army launched new air strikes near the village of Kista, which it had just occupied, and in the district of Amêdî (Dohouk). Many civilians were again injured, including a 20-year-old girl in Kani Masi and two teenagers in Mergasor. Turkish operations continued in Kani Masi until the end of the month, but also in Batifa and Avashin, where clashes with the PKK took place. At the same time, photos and videos show the cutting down of thousands of trees by the Turks, an action denounced by legislators from Erbil. Other reports from Kurdish media sources calculated that Turkey was exporting from Iraqi Kurdistan for sale on its domestic market around 450 tonnes of trees per day: these state plundering activities are reminiscent of those taking place in Rojava in the Turkish-occupied areas, notably in Afrin with olive trees and olive oil.
In an assessment of the Turkish presence in Iraqi Kurdistan published on 11 May, the Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) counted at least 41 military bases and headquarters spread up to 25 kilometres deep in the territory administered by the KRG. These permanent settlements extend over the entire border areas of Kurdistan, from a few kilometres from the Iranian border in the east to almost the Syrian border in the west: in fact, silently, Turkey has set up a real “security zone” similar to the one it occupies in Rojava. These activities, accelerated from May 2018 under the pretext of fighting the PKK, have elicited very little reaction from Iraq or the United States, and more broadly from the international community, while the Turkish military contingents present in Iraq now greatly exceed in number those in the occupied areas in northern Syria. This absence of reactions undeniably constitutes a success for the “neo-Ottoman” policy of the Turkish president, who has skilfully exploited the geographic isolation of the KRG, the weakness of the Iraqi state, and the Erbil-Baghdad tensions. His all-out anti-Kurdish policy, accompanied by permanent support for jihadism, including ISIS, has so far also fulfilled its domestic role of distracting from the appalling state of the Turkish economy... For its part, the Lebanese newspaper L’Orient-Le Jour quotes Nicholas Heras, a researcher at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, who explains that the Turkish presence has intensified over the past year: “What is different now is the pace of Turkish military operations and the increase in the number of small bases managing Turkish forward operations in the northern regions of Iraqi Kurdistan”. This increased presence “leads to more frequent Turkish resupply and reinforcement activities in Iraqi Kurdistan, which gives the impression that Ankara is quietly annexing parts of Iraqi Kurdistan to a Turkish military zone”...
Finally, the Sindjar region, located on the Syrian border and disputed between Baghdad and Erbil, remains a focal point of regional tensions. Ankara has been threatening to intervene there for months. Unlike most Turkish areas of operation in Iraq, it is under at least nominal control of the Iraqi federal government. In fact, it remains an area disputed locally between different armed groups, including pro-PKK militia, which have been present since the party rescued large numbers of Yezidis from ISIS in 2014. In particular, they oppose the implementation of the October 2020 agreement between Baghdad and Erbil, which provided for Baghdad to take over the security of Sindjar with the recruitment of local forces. The local situation increases the risk of Turkish military intervention, but if the Turkish army were to carry out its threat, it would be confronted by the pro-Iranian Hashd al-Shaabi militias that are also deployed in the area…
In Rojava, the decision to increase the price of petrol, announced on the 17th by the Autonomous Administration of North-East Syria (AANES) dominated by the PYD Kurds, provoked demonstrations the next day in several towns, including Qamishli and Hasakah. “The administration was forced to raise prices because they no longer covered production costs”, said Sadek al-Khalaf, an AANES official (AFP). It must be said that the autonomous administration is still in a difficult economic situation. Impacted by the spread of the coronavirus, which imposed a general closure of the borders, it is also still subject to the blockade of the Damascus regime in the south and that of Turkey in the north, with trade with Iraq reduced to a minimum... While the AANES controls the main Syrian oil fields, located in Jazira, the inhabitants find it difficult to understand why they have been facing a general shortage of fuel for months. To put things in perspective, it should be remembered that the price of petrol in Rojava is currently the Syrian equivalent of 13 cents per litre, compared to 75 cents in the Damascus-controlled areas and 93 in those under Turkish occupation. The increase decided by the administration would result in a doubling and sometimes even a tripling of the current price. Demonstrations have sometimes degenerated into violence, to the point that one death has been reported. In Hasakah, the regime was quick to seize on the issue to spark protests. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), “pro-regime demonstrators” stormed a Kurdish security force position there, attracting warning shots in retaliation. Three people were injured in the ensuing scuffles. The OSDH also reported an attack on a Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) base in Shaddadi by armed individuals. Eventually one protester was killed and five injured (AFP).
Following this violence, which finally resulted in two deaths, the AANES decided on the 19th to reverse its decision. It announced in an official communiqué the abrogation of the increases decided two days earlier (AFP).
At the same time, the SDF continued its operations against the jihadist organisation ISIS, which, as in neighbouring Iraq, is becoming increasingly active: its members are launching attacks both in north-eastern Syria, and in particular in the province of Deir Ezzor, and in the Badiyah desert, in the south of the country, against the Damascus army, supported by the Russian air force. The SDF is still supported in its operations by the anti-ISIS coalition. It announced earlier this month the capture of a jihadist commander in charge of assassinations in al-Shafaa (Deir Ezzor), and thanks to local informants, was able to defuse six homemade bombs in al-Kasrah, in the same province. These actions continued the following week on the Iraqi border, where several weapons caches were destroyed. The SDF also captured four jihadist cadres in Deir Ezzor province and a fifth in Hasakah, all of whom were involved in a recent spate of killings, and dismantled a jihadist cell that had been preparing Eid attacks. However, on the 19th, jihadists succeeded in assassinating a member of the Deir Ezzor civil council, Moayed al-Rayash, and on the 30th, another person in Raqqa. Finally, on the 31st, a motorbike bombing in Hassakeh killed one person and injured three, all civilians.
In the camps located in the AANES territory where ex-ISIS members and their families are detained, security has improved somewhat after the police operations started in April by the SDF and the Asayish (Kurdish Security). However, security is not complete, as demonstrated by the shooting of two Iraqi sisters on the 19th in Al-Hol. But another concern is growing in these camps: the coronavirus has made its appearance there. At the beginning of May, there were already at least two deaths from COVID-19 in Al-Hol in the previous three weeks, and 19 positive tests. The camp houses 62,000 residents living in crowded conditions that are highly conducive to contagion. Jaber Mustafa, one of the camp’s officials, told the Independent newspaper that the spread of the disease was difficult to avoid: “Most of the residents are children and women who move a lot from one tent to another”, he said, adding that the security situation had so far made access difficult for health assistance staff.
On the 25th, a hundred Iraqi families left Al-Hol to return to their country of origin: “On Tuesday, 94 Iraqi families, or 381 people, left the Al-Hol camp, under the escort of the Iraqi army”, an AANES official told AFP, on condition of anonymity. AFP could not immediately obtain confirmation from the Iraqi side, but the same official said that these departures were the “first wave” of returns decided thanks to an agreement between Baghdad and the anti-ISIS coalition. Already in February, according to an Iraqi security source, a hundred Iraqi jihadists had been handed over to Baghdad. According to a UN report published in February, the Kurds are still holding some 1,600 Iraqis suspected of having fought for ISIS (AFP).
The AANES also continues to face constant harassment from Turkey and its Syrian mercenaries. In addition to artillery fire and ground attacks, Turkey continues to use water as a weapon against the people of Rojava, holding back large quantities of water from the Turkish side of the Euphrates River. As a result, the level of the river in northern Syria has fallen dramatically in recent weeks, sometimes by up to five metres. The AANES said that the lack of water was now affecting nearly one million people. Interviewed on 2nd of May by the Turkish website Ahval, residents complained that the water shortage affecting them, apart from the obvious issue of drinking water, has serious consequences for agriculture and electricity. The Turkish blockade has affected millions of Syrians by shutting down thirty water treatment plants in the region and hampering the efficiency of power plants (WKI). Also on the 2nd, a farmer from Rojava interviewed by Iraq’s Kurdish channel Rûdaw spoke of a “disaster”: “We used to plant tomatoes, aubergines and isot [chilli pepper] on this land. Now there is nothing left”. Interviewed by Voice of America (VOA) by phone, Cihad Beyrim, an engineer who oversees operations at the Tishrin Dam, one of Syria’s main hydroelectric facilities, which is in the AANES-controlled area, said: “The reduction in water flow has caused significant drops in the water levels behind the Tishrin and Tabqa dams in our area. We have been forced to reduce the hours of electricity from 16 to 8 hours a day”. He added: “[The level] is still falling, and if this continues, we will be forced to stop electricity production altogether, as our top priority is to secure drinking water for our people”. In Manbij, hundreds of residents protested against Turkey’s actions and criticised the silence of the international community (WKI). In Aleppo, the situation for residents is considered critical; as in Deir Ezzor, two major stations supplying drinking water to several neighbourhoods in Aleppo and Raqqa are also at risk of closure.
According to the agreement signed between Ankara and Damascus in 1987, Turkey must let at least 500 m³ of water per second flow into Syria. Today, according to the AANES dam administration, the water flow is less than 200 m³ of water per second... Aykan Erdemir, Director of the Turkey Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former member of the Turkish parliament, considers that Turkey has been regularly using water as a weapon for the past year by interrupting the water supply to SDF-controlled areas: “The Turkish government calculates that the use of water could be particularly effective as the current COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates public health risks in the region”, he told VOA... But although evidence of the Turkish blockade is mounting and both the Damascus regime and AANES accuse Turkey of acting knowingly, Ankara continues to deny any use of water as a weapon against Rojava (Ahval) and says it is also suffering from drought. According to NASA, “Now, at the beginning of 2021, most of Turkey is experiencing a severe drought”; 2020 was already “the driest in the last five years” (Rûdaw).
On the 26th, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs expressed concern about the threat of a humanitarian disaster following the drop in the level of the Euphrates River since January, which “reached a critical point this month”. In a report consulted by Le Figaro, a coordination of NGOs working in north-eastern Syria also expressed concern, noting a sharp increase in cases of diarrhoea and leishmaniasis, while the health committee of the Euphrates region (Kobanê and Aïn-Issa) reported on 27 May on the growing number of water-related poisonings (Le Figaro).
The blocking of water does not exclude the use of other means of harassment such as fire or artillery fire: earlier this month, Kurdish farmers accused the Turkish army and its Syrian mercenaries of burning their farmland in the village of Salim, 15 km west of Kobane. Arson attacks have already destroyed irrigation systems and drinking water supplies in the area. Meanwhile, mercenaries working for Ankara continued to fire on two villages near Tal Abyad / Girê Spî. In addition, the Turkish military continued the construction of a wall along the northern section of the strategic M4 highway near Ain Issa. They clearly aim to isolate the areas they occupy from the territories controlled by Damascus or the AANES (WKI).
There have also been intermittent clashes between Ankara’s military or mercenaries and the SDF, notably in rural Aleppo and near Manbij (OSDH). On the 11th, Ankara announced that it had retaliated against a rocket attack on one of its supply convoys in Idlib province that left one of its soldiers dead and three wounded, without specifying the identity of the attackers. According to the SOHR, a homemade bomb exploded as the Turkish vehicles passed by (VOA). On the 17th, the Turkish president announced the elimination on the 8th of Sofi Nurettin, the nom de guerre of the PKK military commander in Syria (AFP). Erdoğan again accused him of being the “mastermind” of the execution of 13 Turkish nationals, mostly members of the security forces, found dead in February in the Gara cave in Iraqi Kurdistan. These prisoners of the Kurds had really been in all likelihood, along with their guards, the victims of heavy bombardment by the Turkish air force and gassing by the army of their place of detention...
Finally, more and more testimonies are emerging about the crimes against humanity perpetrated in the Kurdish region of Afrin by the Turkish occupation forces, which are known to have been covering up since 2018 racketeering, looting, abductions, torture and executions of mercenaries in their service. In particular, a young man arrested in Afrin by the Islamist Sultan Murad Brigade on charges of links with AANES and imprisoned for two and a half years described on condition of anonymity to the Hawar News Agency (ANHA) the severe torture he had suffered: “I was tortured for 27 days by the prison director, Abu Laith. After that, I was interrogated by a mercenary named Abu Khaled. I was then handed over to Ahmed Zakour of the Furqat al-Hamzat militia. The torture continued. There, the mercenaries and the Turkish secret service tortured me physically and psychologically. They demanded a ransom from the families of my 24 fellow detainees”. He also testifies very clearly to the involvement of the Turkish secret service (MIT) in his abuse: “They gave us electric shocks and pulled out our fingernails. They stuck needles under our fingernails. They starved us. [...] All the interrogations took place under the supervision of MIT. They hung me upside down for a month. They beat us with truncheons. We could only wash once a month. [...] Kurds were constantly insulted. [...] Some prisoners could not bear the torture and ended their lives”. Yet the Turkish Interior Minister, Süleyman Soylu, continues to claim that there have been no allegations of torture in the last four years.
In order to further change the ethnic composition of the region, the Turkish occupier uses many methods in parallel. A policy of terror forces the Kurds to leave. The burning of hundreds of hectares of agricultural land belonging to Kurds in Afrin prevents them from surviving and allows to evict them. Finally, the occupier has revived the techniques of dispossession of the Kurds used in the 1990s in Turkish Kurdistan by resettling Turkish-speaking refugees from Afghanistan in Kurdish areas. This time it is Palestinian refugees from Syria whose resettlement has started in two settlements being built in a Yezidi village with funds partly from Qatar. In total, since the 2018 invasion, Afrin has seen its Kurdish population reduced from 99% to less than 35%.
Moreover, Ankara does not hesitate to use European funds to carry out its ethnic cleansing policy. The spokesperson of the human rights NGO Afrin-Syria, Ibrahim Sheikho, accuses: “The Turkish occupation accelerates the resettlement of Turkmen families along the border with Turkey, where they have been brought from different parts of Syria”. The occupier has also brought “[...] hundreds of Jabhet Al-Nusra and ISIS mercenaries from Turkistan, Uyghurs and Uzbeks, and deployed them [...] in the villages of Sherawa district”. Their deployment “[...] is supervised by mercenaries from Faylaq Al-Sham, led by mercenary leader Abdullah Halawa”. Sheikho believes that the aim of this deployment is to “isolate the city of Afrin from the rest of the Syrian regions, and to encircle it with jihadist factions listed as terrorists at the international level”. Moreover, here too the occupier is using water as a weapon: it has diverted most of the water from the Maidanaki dam in the Shera district to the Turkish-occupied Syrian city of Azaz (Kurdistan for women)...
Finally, to complete this chronicle of the month of May, we must mention what appears as a non-event for the Kurds of Syria: the “re-election” on 28 May of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with an official score of 95.1% of the votes. As Libération notes, “The Syrian regime did not even try to give an appearance of plausibility to the results” of this “presidential election”, held on the 26th only in two-thirds of a divided country which also counts 6.6 million nationals gone into exile... Neither the region of Idlib, held by Islamist rebels (4 million inhabitants), nor that administered by the AANES (3 million), voted, which makes the official results totally implausible. The West, which had contested a sham election in advance, did not recognise the results, unlike Moscow. “The failure to adopt a new constitution [during the discussions of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva] is proof that the so-called election of 26 May will be a sham”, said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US ambassador to the UN. This failure is indeed largely attributable to the systematic obstruction of the regime’s delegation (Le Monde).
The AANES had indicated that it would not organise the vote and would not allow it to take place in the territories it administers. The day before the vote, it announced the closure of its border crossings with the regime “until further notice”. The executive body of the AANES, the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), issued a statement saying that the “election” violates UN Security Council Resolution 2254: “We in the Syrian Democratic Council state that we will not [...] participate in the presidential election process. Our position is firm that there will be no elections before the political solution per international resolutions, the release of detainees, and the return of the displaced”.
According to a report by Hengaw, the human rights organisation in Iranian Kurdistan, the month of May was marked by a significant number of suicides in this region. This report, which covers the period from 21 April to 21 May (the Persian month of Ordibehesht) and covers the Kurdish provinces of Ilam, Kermanshah, Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan, counts at least 29 suicides involving 14 women and 15 men, including 4 minors. The organisation attributes these suicides to various causes: poverty, unemployment, family problems and forced marriage. The increase in the number of suicides over the past few months does not only concern Kurdistan, but the whole country. Iran News Wire gives the example of Tehran, where 84 people took their own lives only between 15 and 16 April, and reports the results of a sociological survey according to which the number of suicides in Iran has increased by 60% between 2015 and 2019. Most frighteningly, this rapid increase has actually decreased compared to the period 2011-2015, during which, according to the State Khabar website “suicide rates had increased by 66% among women and 71% among men. [...] For years, the media have not received statistics on suicide rates, as the relevant organisations refuse to publish them...”.
These figures show the daily desperation of many Iranian families. In Kurdistan, the constant political repression and the discriminatory economic policy of the regime are certainly factors of a great loss of hope. Young Kurds victims of the repression sometimes prefer to go into exile, and those who have to stay to support their families often have no choice but to turn to the dangerous profession of cross-border porter, or kolbar.
Considered as smugglers by the regime’s repressive forces, kolbars are shot on sight with impunity in the mountains, although, unarmed, they do not represent any danger. Since smuggling is only punishable by fines or prison sentences, these are extrajudicial death sentences, in other words assassinations... At the beginning of May, two kolbars were injured in Hawraman, and a third near Sardasht. The following week, another was injured near Baneh and another near Piranshahr on the 10th. Some lost their lives while trying to escape from the pasdaran, like the one who drowned in the Benar river in Urmia. Finally, near Nowsud, another kolbar was injured when he stepped on a mine placed by the Iranian forces. On the 15th, Iranian border guards killed one kolbar in Salmas and wounded two others in Nowsud, one in Kamyaran and one in Piranshahr. The Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) reported on the 18th that 56 kolbars had been killed since January, while more than 200 had been injured.
Unfortunately, the list continued until the end of the month, with two more injured in the week of the 17th near Baneh, one of whom had to be hospitalised, followed by another death on the 26th in Sarpol Zahao (Kermanshah) and another injured in Baneh. At the same time, Iranian border guards beat up several detained kolbars who confessed to transporting goods near Nowsud and Hawraman.
Against the background of the recent strengthening of the PDKI presence in Iranian Kurdistan, and the deployment of additional security forces by Tehran in response, clashes between peshmerga and Iranian forces on the Mahabad-Bokan road on 21 October resulted in deaths on both sides. The PDKI reported that 2 of its peshmerga were killed, and that 3 Iranian intelligence agents and 2 pasdaran, including an officer, were also killed (Rûdaw).
As mentioned earlier, many young Kurds from Iran choose to go into exile. They usually start by moving to the Kurdistan Region in neighbouring Iraq. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has counted more than 10,000 Kurdish refugees from Iran currently registered with its offices in Iraq, the vast majority in Kurdistan (Duvar). This month was marked by the suicide of one of these asylum seekers, Mohammad Mahmoudi, aged 27, who chose to set himself on fire by dousing himself with petrol on the 18th in front of the UN offices in Erbil. Assisted by guards from the UN office and passers-by, he was hospitalised, but despite being treated in intensive care for 6 days, he died of his burns on the morning of the 24th. Before his death he had explained to the cameras that he was a Kurdish political activist from Iran: “Are we supposed to live like I do because of my political activity? Is this life? We have been living like homeless dogs for four years!”, he said. The former peshmerga from Bokan had been sentenced to death in Iran (RojInfo). Working as a day labourer, he was still waiting for the processing of his refugee application filed in 2017 (AFP). This could be linked to his combat history, as the UNHCR “does not offer protection to anyone who has carried arms or has a criminal background”... Furthermore, the pandemic has slowed down the pace of refugee resettlements in third countries (Duvar).
In addition, during the month of May, the number of victims of the COVID-19 pandemic in Iran reached and then exceeded the 300,000 death mark. These are not the “official” figures of the regime, which has sought from the beginning to conceal the extent of its inability to control the spread of the virus. This figure comes from the exiled opposition National Council of Resistance (NCRI), and in particular the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), which regularly compiles its own assessment of the health situation by consolidating provincial data from various sources. According to this source, on 1st of May, there were more than 272,000 deaths in 541 cities in Iran, and by 30 May, this figure had risen to more than 302,000, which would give an estimated increase of 30,000... These figures are four times higher than those published by the authorities. According to the PMOI, the 300,000 death mark was passed on the 29th. Given the precarious living conditions of the inhabitants of Iranian Kurdistan and the lack of economic support measures for those most at risk, it is not surprising that the region has many victims of COVID. In West Azerbaijan, the number of deaths calculated by the PMOI on 1st of May was 10,178, rising to 11,343 on 30 May, an estimated 1,165 deaths in one month (for 3 million people in 2011). In Kermanshah, with 5,454 deaths on 1st of May, there were 5,724 on the 15th, an increase of 270.
During this month leading up to the presidential elections in June, the regime’s repressive forces have been very active. Already, according to the organisation Hengaw, at least 28 Kurdish political, environmental and trade union activists had been arrested in April. It was reported on 1st May that in Lorestan, on 29 April, the pasdaran did not hesitate to use tear gas and buckshot against the villagers of the village of Kahman Aleshtar who were protesting against the felling of their walnut trees by regime agents. According to the NCRI, during his recent trip to Lorestan, the head of the judiciary, the ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi, who is considered to be the favourite for the next presidential elections, gave orders to intensify repressive measures... On Labour Day, the security forces in Sanandaj arrested at least eight people who had tried to hold a rally in the Abasawa district in protest against the poor working conditions and high unemployment rate in Iranian Kurdistan. Only two of those arrested were released the following week, and a new Kurdish activist, Ali Allawaisi, was arrested (WKI).
In Marivan, a dozen people were arrested for protesting against a group of Salafists who had attacked many people they accused of drinking alcohol. In Bokan, Kurdish environmental activist Simko Maroufi was sentenced to one year in prison and banned from travelling abroad for two years for “propaganda against the state”. Another notable conviction was that of Kurdish political prisoner Mohammed Muradi, who was sentenced to forty years in prison for “carrying weapons” and “belonging to the Kurdistan Democratic Party”. In addition, the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HARANA) reported that Kurdish painter from Khorramabad (Lorestan) Amin Masuri received nine months in prison for his paintings depicting the regime’s violent crackdown on protesters in autumn 2019. Masuri had previously been jailed for participating in anti-government protests... (WKI) On the 18th in Sanandaj, according to local sources, security forces simultaneously arrested five Kurdish civil rights activists, Reza Rezaei, Mohsen Hossein-Panahi, Keyvan Elyasi, Morteza Mohammadi and Ghaneh Khateri. No information is yet available on the reason for these arrests and their situation (KHRN).
At the end of the month, the Etelaat (Intelligence Service) carried out new arrests: Kurdish journalist Amen Mohammadi in Sirwan, activist Najaf Mehdipour in Darreh Shahr, and several other Kurds in Urmia, Mahabad and Piranshahr (KMMK). Also, in Mahabad, Kurdish activist Saed Husseini was sentenced to 40 years in prison for “rebellion”. Hengaw also reported that Kurdish environmental activist Khabat Mafakhery received four years in prison in Mahabad for “belonging to the Kurdish Free Life Party”.
The threat of capital punishment still hangs over the heads of arrested activists. After executing champion wrestler Navid Afkari last September for participating in an anti-corruption protest in 2018, the regime is now threatening his brother Vahid with execution to force him to record a videotaped confession... (VOA)
Finally, the authorities are preparing for the presidential elections scheduled for 18 June – more precisely, they are organising the victory of the ultraconservative candidate Ebrahim Raisi. He is infamous among Kurds and all opponents of the regime for his recent supervision of numerous executions of dissidents as head of the judiciary. Moreover, in 1988, he participated in the “Death Commission” of Tehran which pronounced thousands of executions of political prisoners, considered by human rights organisations as crimes against humanity...
The mock election that is being prepared should see the unsurprising victory of Raisi, since the Council of Guardians of the Constitution has taken care to eliminate from the ballot all competitors who present the slightest risk of taking away his victory. For the first time, the “reformist” faction within the regime announced that it had no candidate. Its conservative opponents seem assured of assuming full power, which would allow them to drastically stifle any dissension within the regime.
Under these conditions, a rush to the polls is not expected. The process of elimination has been so severe that “even some members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, known for their strong hostility to political dissent, have called the election undemocratic” (New York Times). Calls for a boycott have multiplied. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose candidacy for the presidency was also rejected by the Council of Guardians, also declared that he would not vote and denounced the Council.
With the Turkish media tightly controlled by the government and a relentless repression preventing any public expression of discontent, it is not surprising that the videos posted on Youtube by the exiled mafia boss Sedat Peker, who has long been close to the circles of the AKP government and its president, have gone viral: by the end of May, his seven weekly videos had been viewed more than 55 million times (Financial Times), and one of them alone had registered 15 million views! Subjected to a press under orders and deprived of the possibility of expressing themselves, Turks follow the “Peker videos” like a Netflix series, listening to what the far-right mafia leader presents as revelations, “which shed light on the incestuous relations between the Islamo-nationalist alliance in power and organised crime” (Le Figaro). The man is all the more dangerous for the authorities as he is a former supporter of Erdoğan, with whom he used to have his picture taken, which suggests that he does indeed know the underside of many affairs... This makes up for the fact that he only provides circumstantial evidence to support his accusations.
Why did this godfather of racketeering and drug trafficking turn against his former friends? First of all, it seems that he was side-lined by the authorities in favour of a rival, also a far-right mafioso, Alaattin Cakıcı, a protégé of MHP leader Devlet Bahceli. In 2019, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, who was still protecting Peker at the time, reportedly urged him to leave the country because of a judicial investigation against him. Peker fled Turkey a few months before a police operation during which some 50 members of his criminal organisation were arrested. In April 2020, he had released a first video in which he attacked Erdoğan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, then Finance minister, whom he blamed for his disgrace. Then he kept silent for a year. But it was a police search of his wife’s house last April that seems to have enraged him. Özge Peker, his former lawyer, said that special forces police officers came to search her home with long-barreled weapons and pointed them at her children. Peker later referred in one of his videos to the “indecent behaviour” of the police officers towards his wife and daughters... However, feeling betrayed by Soylu, whom he probably hoped would help him return home, he posted on Twitter on 18 April the video of his talks with journalist Hadi Özisik, a former adviser to the minister. In it he said that he and his brother had acted as intermediaries between the minister and the Turkish mob (RFI). This was only the beginning: in his subsequent videos, posted on his Youtube channel and then on his own website, http://www.sedatpeker.com/, the gangster set out to settle scores...
In one of his first videos, he accused AKP MP Tolga Ağar of the 2018 rape of a Kyrgyz student and journalist who was found dead after she filed a complaint, her death being then presented as a suicide. In his video released on May 23, he accused Erkan Yıldırım, son of Erdoğan’s former prime minister Binali Yıldırım, of smuggling cocaine into Turkey from Venezuela, a country he had visited twice in early 2020... At the end of the month, he detailed how the Turkish government had used the Sadat company, set up by Erdoğan’s former military adviser Adnan Tanriverdi, to supply arms and drones to al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria, prompting the HDP to call for a parliamentary enquiry. Meanwhile, he elaborated on the police protection the interior minister had provided him... In another video, Peker claimed that his henchmen had participated in the 2015 attack on the offices of the Hurriyet newspaper on the orders of an AKP deputy whose name he did not reveal.
When Peker said he had instructed his brother Atilla 25 years ago to assassinate Turkish Cypriot journalist and politician Kutlu Adalı (a mission the gangster said Attila failed to complete, although Adalı was indeed shot dead some time later), on the orders of former Justice and Interior Minister, ultra-nationalist Mehmet Ağar, police went to arrest Attila Peker. Peker also said that Ağar had ordered the murder of investigative journalist Uğur Mumcu, killed in a car explosion in 1993, and of the husband of Pervin Buldan, the current HDP co-chairwoman, Savaş Buldan, who was kidnapped and murdered in June 1994. Mumcu’s family has asked for the investigation to be reopened, and Pervin Buldan said her husband was killed by the state and that those responsible had been acquitted, adding that she would seek to have them retried (Reuters).
As an indication of the government’s nervousness, on 21 September, the journalist of the Anatolia State Agency Musab Turan was fired after he asked Industry Minister Mustafa Varank and Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli at a press conference to respond to allegations that the Interior Minister had links with Peker. The agency announced the opening of an investigation against him for “belonging to a terrorist organisation” (Rûdaw).
The officials involved have of course denied all. On the 24th, Süleyman Soylu, answering a journalist’s questions in a three-hour television interview, was hardly convincing, seeming above all to seek to evade the questions... (RFI) He then filed a complaint against Peker for insult and defamation. Erdoğan, whom Peker has so far refrained from directly implicating (he calls him in his videos “abi”, “big brother”), reacted to the scandal for the first time by declaring his support for his minister. On the 27th, Turkey issued an arrest warrant for Peker (AFP). Tolga Ağar, who is none other than the son of former minister Mehmet Ağar, also mentioned by Peker, called the rape accusation “slander” on Twitter.
But Peker’s videos reactivated the collective memory of the 1996 Susurluk car crash: in one of the wrecked vehicles were found, among others, the deputy chief of the Istanbul police, together with Abdullah Çatlı, leader of the Grey Wolves and MIT killer. Thus the collusion between state officials, ultra-nationalists and the Turkish mafia was concretely exposed. The Minister of the Interior at the time had to resign. His name was... Mehmet Ağar.
On 24 May, Peker, after seven videos, announced that there were five more to come...