The Turkish president’s aggressive foreign policy and autocratic turn at home have led to the increasing diplomatic isolation of the country... and of Mr Erdoğan himself. The extreme personalization of power that he has himself instituted makes him perceived by Turks as primarily responsible for the economic situation, mass unemployment and the calamitous management of the Covid pandemic... Weakened, isolated, unable to fight on two fronts, he is now moderating his discourse about European leaders whom he not so long ago called “Nazis” or “mentally ill”, in the hope of warming up his economic relations with the European Union...
The arrival of a new tenant in the White House has also changed the situation. Donald Trump had given Turkey a free hand against the Kurds in Syria and, after the purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system, had partly protected Ankara from the sanctions sought by Congress. Unlike his predecessor, Joe Biden has not hesitated to criticise the human rights situation in Turkey, even mentioning during his campaign a possible support to the Turkish opposition. Since he took office, the only call he made to his Turkish counterpart, on 23 April, was to announce the recognition by the United States of the Armenian genocide of 1915! The message was clear. Mr Erdoğan seemingly heard it: far from the nationalistic flights of fancy he is fond of, he kept silent for 48 hours before speaking out, speaking soberly of a “baseless recognition”. After the Biden-Erdoğan meeting in Brussels on 14 June on the sidelines of the NATO summit, the White House did not issue a statement, but the Turkish president described the meeting in a press conference as “fruitful and sincere”, without providing any details or announcing the hoped-for agreement on the S-400 issue... On 21 June, returning to the meeting, he announced the opening of a “new era with the United States on a positive and constructive basis”; behind the words, the disagreements remain unresolved...
On the regional level, Turkey, which ten years ago dreamed of being the “natural leader” of the Sunni world, has finally fallen out with most Arab countries by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. It is now attempting diplomatic manoeuvres for normalisation, starting with Egypt, where it sent a delegation on 5 May. Ankara and Cairo have not had diplomatic relations since 2013, when Erdoğan, a supporter of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, called Marshal Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi, who overthrew him, a “gangster”. Fiercely opposed to the Turkish presence in Libya, Egypt took advantage of the Turkish visit to also demand Ankara’s withdrawal from northern Syria... Then on 10 May, the head of Turkish diplomacy, Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, visited Saudi Arabia, the first such visit since 2018 and the murder in Istanbul of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The diplomatic path seems to be full of pitfalls for Ankara...
Inside Turkey, the presidential party, captive to its far-right ally, the MHP, whose votes are indispensable to it, is pursuing an ever more relentless repression to stifle any dissenting voice. ...
Thus, the party carrying the most resolute opposition to Erdoğan, the “pro-Kurdish” and progressive HDP, thousands of whose members are already imprisoned, is now threatened with a ban. In early June, Court of Cassation prosecutor Bekir Şahin submitted a new request to the Turkish Constitutional Court to close the party, an initial draft of which had been rejected in late March on the grounds of “procedural irregularities”. On 21 June, the Constitutional Court agreed to open a review procedure. The document accuses the HDP of “undermining the unity of the nation and terrorist activities”, themes regularly raised by the government, which has constantly accused the HDP of links with the Kurdish guerrilla group PKK. “Everyone must realise that the prosecutor in this trial is the government itself”, said HDP co-chair Mithat Sancar. In order to prevent the HDP from reconstituting itself under another name, as the ten or so “pro-Kurdish” parties banned in Turkey since 1993 had done in their time, the prosecutor took care to ask for the seizure of the party’s assets and the exclusion of 451 of its leading members for five years from any political activity... This clearly shows that this is a political trial aimed at preventing the Kurdish-progressive alliance in Turkey from barring the president from being re-elected of in 2023 (AFP).
To support future bans on political activities, the government continues to use the judiciary. New criminal proceedings have been launched against several HDP members, including former MP Sırrı Süreyya Önder. Earlier this month, a prosecutor demanded five years in prison against the co-chairwoman of the “Democratic Society Congress” (DTK), Leyla Güven, for referring to the imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan as “Mr Öcalan”. Police also arrested the former co-mayor of the Van Metropolitan Municipality, Mustafa Avci, who had already been removed and replaced by an administrator in August 2019. The following week, an appeal court upheld Güven’s sentence of 22 years and three months in prison for “belonging to a terrorist organisation” and “propaganda”. In Urfa, Sevda Çelik Özbingöl, the lawyer who represented the victims of the July 2015 ISIS attack in Suruç, which killed around 30 people, was sentenced to 11 years in prison. In addition, 24 people, mostly HDP members, were arrested: four in Cizre, five in Van, nine in Diyarbakir, four in Hakkari and two in Istanbul. Finally, the “Kobanê trial”, targeting 108 HDP members, also continued. During its third hearing, which took place on the 14th, several of the detained defendants accused prison officials of harassment and ill-treatment. The following day, hundreds of arrest warrants were issued against HDP members, including 105 in Diyarbakir.
It is in this extremely tense context, and after months of anti-Kurdish and anti-HDP hate speeches by many officials in power, starting with Mr Erdoğan himself, that a gunman member of the fascist Grey Wolves militia, Onur Gencer, attacked the party’s office in Izmir on the 17th. After opening the door with his rifle, he fired 35 bullets into the office, killing a young HDP worker, Deniz Poyraz, 40, who was having breakfast. The young woman, who was due to get married soon, had come to clean the office in replacement for her mother, who had been detained for a minor surgery.
HDP MP Murat Çepni told Bianet that this was not the first attack on the Izmir office, and that for months the government had been organising provocations in front of the HDP offices: “There have been several attempts at provocation. The attack happened whereas the party building is in front of the police station [...] This is an organised attack”. The HDP said in a statement that “no intervention” was made against the attacker who had plenty of time to shoot and attempt to set the building on fire. HDP foreign affairs spokesmen Feleknas Uca and Hişyar Özsoy confirmed this in their own statement: “For about a month, the police have set up a checkpoint in front of the party building, following the continued presence of a family standing guard in front of the building in protest, alleging that their child has been taken to the mountains by the PKK. Our party officials in İzmir had spoken with police officials and the governorate regarding the risk of provocation, but without results. It is also important to mention that this attack, like the previous ones, took place under the eyes of the police without any intervention or prevention. Our building was blocked by the police immediately after the incident and they forbade the access of party officials and Deniz Poyraz’s mother. This is not the first time our offices have been attacked. Just after the June 2015 general election, and again in 2016, hundreds of our offices, including our headquarters in Ankara, were attacked by racist mobs, and many were set on fire. These attacks, too, occurred with the full knowledge of the police and the Ministry of the Interior, which took no action to prevent or prosecute the perpetrators. Throughout these attacks, all our attempts to communicate with state and government officials have gone unanswered. To date, no perpetrators have been brought to justice [...]. This latest murderous attack, in which a young woman was murdered, is the result of the government’s policy of criminalisation against the HDP. It is not a coincidence that the attack took place while the ‘‘Kobanê’’ trial is going on and the HDP is threatened with closure” (HDP Europe).
The personality of the murderer is revealing: Gencer had participated as a paramilitary in the invasion of Rojava in 2019 and had posted photos on Instagram showing him dressed in a uniform, carrying a weapon, and making with his hand the fascist sign of the “Grey Wolves” (WKI). Far from being an isolated case, it concretely demonstrates the presence of the fascist and ultra-nationalist movement at the heart of the Turkish “deep state” (derin devlet).
The victim’s sister testified to the outrageous attitude of the police, who not only gave the murderer free rein, but then adopted an almost friendly attitude towards him: “He fired 35 times, but the police did nothing. [The police] prevented those who heard the shots from entering, saying: ‘There is a conflict inside, we are waiting for the bullet-proof waistcoats’. They just waited there. [When the murderer came down], they didn’t handcuff him. They took him, took his arm and asked him: ‘What is your name, brother, where do you live?’ Every day our house is searched for no reason. They handcuff us behind our backs, force us to lie on the floor and take us into custody. But they didn’t even handcuff the one who perpetrated a massacre” (Bianet).
The outcome of the attack could have been even more serious: according to HDP co-chair Mithat Sancar, 40 party cadres were due to meet in the Izmir office, but the meeting was cancelled shortly before the attack, without any link to any threat (France-24). One may wonder whether the assassin was not guided to attack this very meeting...
On the 18th, Deniz Poyraz’s funeral took place under the surveillance of thousands of police officers. The authorities forbade the participants to make any political statement. This obligation of silence, however, did not extend to the MHP leader: on the 22nd, Devlet Bahçeli justified the assassination, accusing the victim of being a member of the PKK. His words drew widespread condemnation. The chairwoman of the Human Rights Association (İHD), lawyer Eren Keskin, indicated her intention to file a complaint for incitement to hatred: “[Bahçeli] attacked a dead person and approved the attack, clearly inciting people to hatred and animosity. As a Human Rights Association, we will file a criminal complaint according to Article 216 of the Turkish Penal Code”.
The following week, as the Turkish government’s anti-HDP crackdown resumed, including three arrests of HDP members in Beytüşşebap (Şırnak), four people who were trying to commemorate the death of Deniz Poyraz were detained. Meanwhile, the army launched an operation in Hizan (Bitlis) district (WKI).
At the same time, the Kurdish language continues to suffer from a lot of discrimination. In 2020, a theatrical performance of Italian author Dario Fo’s play Klaxon, trumpets... and firecrackers, translated into Kurdish under the title Bêrû (“Without face”) by writer Dilawer Zeraq, was to be performed in Istanbul on 14 October by the Teatra Jiyana Nû (TJN, “Theatre of the New Life”) troupe. It was banned by the governor of the Küçükçekmece sub-district just hours before the performance. The Law and Media Studies Association then challenged the ban before the Administrative Court. On 31 May, the court rejected the request, arguing that the TJN is affiliated with the Mezopotamia Cultural Centre (MKM), which is itself “affiliated with the PKK terrorist organisation”. Thus, the ban would be necessary “to maintain national security and the continuity of the state, as required by the sensitivity of the issue” and would have aimed to “prevent support for terrorism” by avoiding that the income generated by the performance could be used “in activities aimed at supporting the separatist terrorist organisation”. The association, as well as one of the actors of the troupe, Ömer Şahin, have indicated that they intend to appeal to the Constitutional Court and, if necessary, to the European Court of Human Rights (Bianet).
The Kurdish movement does not stand still in the face of language discrimination. The HDP and the Mesopotamian Language and Culture Research Association (MED-DER) co-organised a workshop entitled Dem Dema Parastina Ziman e, “It’s time to defend the language”, on the 28-29th in Diyarbakir. The assimilation policy of the Turkish state and the political measures to be taken to defend Kurdish were discussed. In attendance were members of associations defending Kurdish language and culture and political figures such as HDP MP for Diyarbakir Dersim Dağ, leaders of the Kurdistan Communist Party (KKP) and activists of the Free Women’s Movement (TJA). In her opening speech, MED-DER co-chair Şilan Elmas Kan denounced the discriminatory language policy of pro-AKP municipal administrators and pleaded for the recognition of the Kurdish language in political and social life. Co-chairman Rıfat Roni, just released from Diyarbakır D-type prison, passing on the salute of political prisoners, recalled: “The mother tongue has a decisive role in the recognition of a nation. We will defend our language and pass it on to the next generations”. After the speeches, a documentary on the importance of the Kurdish language was screened.
A parody of a “presidential election” took place in Iran on the 18th of this month. The regime’s official candidate Ebrahim Raisi was, unsurprisingly, declared the winner of a ballot that was largely boycotted by the population. The new president, who was for a long time head of the judiciary, is implicated in a number of assassinations of opponents and in massive human rights violations. He is on the US State Department’s red list of “criminals”.
Already at the beginning of the month, the Cooperation Centre of Political Parties of Iranian Kurdistan, which groups most of the Kurdish opposition parties in Iran, had issued several statements calling on the Kurds to boycott the elections. One of them said: “Voting for the regime is voting for terror and massacres” (WKI). A few days before the masquerade of voting organised by the regime, the Iraqi Kurdish channel Rûdaw noted the disinterest and even apathy of the inhabitants of Iranian Kurdistan. Even beyond the political instructions of the parties, the majority of the Kurds of Iran have lost all hope that an election can bring any change. The experience of all the previous promises, never honoured, has kept them away from the ballot box. In the previous elections, many had voted for the reformist camp, mainly to block the conservatives. But many of them have lost interest this time, like a retired teacher who has to drive a taxi to survive, who said: “For years I have been going to the polls hoping for change, but it gets worse every year”. Like him, many people, faced with the catastrophic economic situation, with rising inflation, unemployment and poverty, and with empty promises, decided not to vote.
Even threats of prosecution by the authorities against those promoting the boycott have not helped. Last month, more than 230 leading activists signed an open letter calling for a boycott of the elections, saying their aim was to ensure “a non-violent transition of power from the Islamic Republic to the people”. On social networks, many videos were posted openly by ordinary Iranians, including relatives of those killed in the crackdown in recent years. The call was always the same: “Don’t vote”. A mother whose son was shot in the heart during the November 2019 protests even said in her video: “Voting is betrayal” (New York Times). Finally, even political figures who can little be suspected of opposition to the regime have called for a boycott. Thus Mir Hossein Moussavi, the unsuccessful candidate in the 2009 presidential elections, but also his rival at the time, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who declared that he would not travel! One hundred and ten personalities announced in a joint statement their refusal to participate.
On the other hand, moderate President Hassan Rouhani has been a huge disappointment. His failure to improve the human rights situation during his two terms in office, the deterioration of the economy due in part to US sanctions, plus the absence of any candidate of the same tendency with sufficient credibility to block Raisi, have only increased disenchantment. Corruption is also pointed out, as by a day labourer from Sanandaj who told Rûdaw: “Those who are running for the presidency and for the municipal councils [whose elections were held at the same time] first promise everything, but we have seen that none of it is true. They are all working to fill their own pockets”. The loss of confidence in the regime has thus partly extended to local elected officials.
The fact that the Guardians of the Constitution this time ruled out any major reformist candidate, putting an end to even the appearance of democratic play that had accompanied the previous elections, the growing rift between the regime and its citizens, their disinterest, the calls for a boycott by the opposition and also, and this is a new development, by a large number of political personalities, plus the omnipresence of propaganda for Raisi in an election that had been literally locked in his favour, all of this predicted the result obtained... The conservative candidate won, of course, but his legitimacy will remain handicapped by an official abstention rate of 51.2%, the highest since the foundation of the Islamic Republic. And most probably much lower than the reality because observers and most opponents speak of a participation rate below 25%... Meanwhile, as Le Monde wrote the day after the election, the election of Raisi is “very bad news for Iranian civil society”.
Raisi appears to Iranian opponents as the very embodiment of repression. His human rights record is appalling. “Since the age of 20, he has been issuing execution orders and prison sentences”, said Hadi Ghaemi, director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, an independent organization based in New York. In 1988, aged just 28, he was a member of the sinister “Death Commission” that sent thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of political prisoners to the gallows in secret. He said in 2018 that he was “proud” of his actions at the time. In 2009, he chose to repress the demonstrations of the “green movement” against the dubious re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Finally, after the November 2019 protests, he was at the helm as head of the judiciary to hand out years in prison and hangings to protesters who survived the regime’s bloody crackdown. According to human rights groups, at least 7,000 of them were arrested, tortured and sentenced to long prison terms by the judiciary headed by Raisi. Against the killings by the repressive forces, he has not launched any investigation, thus ensuring impunity for their perpetrators. Denounced by Amnesty International, he is among the Iranian political figures on whom the Trump administration has imposed targeted sanctions in 2019 (New York Times). On 3 June, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) called in a statement for an independent investigation against Raisi for crimes against humanity. On 7 June, the organisation drew attention to the death earlier this month in Tehran’s central prison of Sassan Niknafs, who was incarcerated despite his health – a death for which Raisi, as head of the judiciary, bears ultimate responsibility. Niknafs is the second political prisoner at least in four months to die in custody. These recent crimes are in addition to all those committed by Raisi over decades.
Before this masquerade of a vote, it was necessary, even more than usual, to silence any dissident voice. The security forces did their utmost, especially in Kurdistan. At the beginning of the month, the Kurdish activist Erfan Saedpanah, who had been missing for two days, was found dead in Sanandaj. A member of the Zagros organisation, he had said in his last Facebook post that he wanted to make revelations. In Kamyaran, another activist, Haidar Qorbani, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for “spreading propaganda against the state”. In Mahabad, Farzad Samani, arrested in January, went on hunger strike to protest against the sixth extension of his detention by the Etelaat (Intelligence) (WKI). In the week leading up to the election, activist Barzan Mohammadi was arrested in Sarvabad by the Etelaat for launching a campaign called “No to the Islamic Republic” (KMMK). According to the human rights organisation Hengaw, Etelaat agents posed on social media as activists arrested in Sanandaj months earlier in order to get other activists to reveal their identity and activities. On the 17th, Kurdish activist Soria Haqdost was arrested in Marivan. Other activists were arrested in Sanandaj, Piranshahr, Naghadeh, Sardasht and Oshnavieh, and more arrests took place at the end of the month in Divandara, Oshnavieh and Sanandaj; finally, a Yarsan activist, Kharollah Haqjoian, was arrested in Sahneh (Kermanshah) (WKI)
Again this month, many cross-border Kurdish porters, or kolbars, were also victims of the repressive forces. Two of them were injured by border guards near Baneh and Marivan in the first week of the month. On the 5th, another was injured by Turkish border guards near Mako, and a fourth died of a heart attack caused by exhaustion in Pawa. In the week before the election, two kolbars were injured in separate ambushes by Iranian border guards near Baneh, and another was killed when he fell into a ravine in Nowsud. On the 21st, again near Mako, Turkish border guards killed one kolbar, while two others were shot in Baneh. Finally, according to the KMMK (Kurdistan Association for Human Rights), in Hawraman, another kolbar died after four days from injuries inflicted by Iranian border guards. In the last week of the month, three more kolbars were injured, one more in Hawraman, the others in Sardasht on the 23rd and in Salas-e Babajani (WKI).
At the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres presented his annual report on human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran (https://undocs.org/A/HRC/47/22). This document mentions that 60 kolbars were assassinated in 2020 and at least 69 Kurds executed. Furthermore, it denounces the “arbitrary deprivation of life” taking place in Iran, “including the imposition of the death penalty in a manner that violates international law [...], the lethal use of force by state agents, and the denial of medical care in detention” (WKI).
Finally, while the presidential election has largely diverted media attention from the country’s health situation, the COVID-19 epidemic continues to progress. On the 10th, the Iranian Ministry of Health announced that Iran had crossed the threshold of three million contaminations, with 12,398 new cases and 153 deaths in 24 hours for an official total of 81,672 deaths (Le Figaro), which makes Iran the country in the Near and Middle East most affected by the pandemic. And these are only official figures, which some health officials admit are extremely underestimated. The Iranian opposition NCRI (National Council of Resistance), and particularly its People’s Mojahedin component, which compiles its own figures for the epidemic by aggregating regional public data, arrives at totals more than four times higher. For 30 June, they estimated the number of deaths due to the coronavirus at more than 320,000 in 547 cities of the country... Faced with the delay in vaccinating citizens, the government was reduced to announcing on 14 June that it had approved the use of a second dose of a vaccine developed by the “Imam Order Foundation”, the Barekat, which had not yet been approved for marketing.
Turkey continues its harassment of Rojava, both through direct attacks and by withholding water. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has reported numerous Turkish attacks on territories controlled by the Autonomous Administration of North-East Syria (AANES) or by the regime, particularly in the eastern part of Aleppo province. On the 1st of the month, rocket fire targeted several villages near Manbij, without causing any casualties. Artillery fire hit villages in the Sharra district, east of Afrin, on 1 and 2 June. On 2 June, a regime army lieutenant wounded by Turkish rockets a few days earlier died of his injuries. The exchange of fire continued on the 3rd, with destruction of civilian homes and retaliatory SDF fire on Turkish positions near Afrin and on vehicles of the “Syrian National Army” (SNA), despite its name, a Turkish mercenary force. Two Turkish soldiers were reportedly killed and numerous of their SNA auxiliaries injured. The SOHR confirmed on the 4th the death of a soldier and a militiaman and several wounded Turkish and Syrian fighters. Very early on the 5th, numerous Turkish artillery attacks on the village of Kaloutah in the Shirawa district of Afrin killed a girl and wounded her brother and father. Also according to the SOHR, “Turkish forces stationed on the outskirts of the towns of Darat Izza and al-Basoutah targeted several Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Aleppo with more than 100 artillery shells over the past 12 hours”. On the 6th, Turkish rockets caused major fires in farmland, including near Tell Rifaat, without causing any casualties. However, a Syrian officer from al-Qardaha, the hometown of Bashar al-Assad, was killed by Turkish artillery in the village of Mayyasah (Shirawa), where Kurdish and Damascus forces are deployed (SOHR). The Turkish military continued to fire rockets at Kurdish-held areas of Aleppo province in the following days, including Deir Gamal, where many of the displaced from Afrin are located.
On the 10th, the Turks and their mercenaries again fired rockets at villages around Tell Rifaat, wounding three regime soldiers at Minagh airbase, before firing more than 180 rockets at Kurdish positions on the 12th, causing material damage and wounding a child in Aqbiya (SOHR). In the following days, Turkish fire on villages southwest of Girê Spî (Tell Abyad), a Turkish-occupied city, and towards Tell Rifaat and several areas north of Manbij, wounded at least one regime soldier (WKI).
On the 19th, the Turkish military stationed in Azaz exchanged artillery fire with the Kurds positioned around Tell Rifaat, again hitting the Minagh base. A Turkish base near Al-Bab was also hit. The exchange of fire continued on the 20th and 21st, accompanied by attempted Turkish ground attacks. On the 22nd, following an advance by the SDF, Turkish fire increased in intensity on the outskirts of Manbij (SOHR). In the following days, Turkish attacks also targeted Girê Spî and the Christian town of Tell Tamer (Hasakeh). The Syriac Military Council, affiliated to the SDF, denounced a violation of international law by Turkey, which transferred three of its fighters to its soil for trial (WKI).
Turkey and its mercenaries also continue to hold back the waters of the Euphrates, forcing the shutdown of hydroelectric plants, thus causing severe electricity shortages. Turkey is also using its control over the upper Khabur River, in the region of Serê Kaniye (Ras al-Ain), to thirst downstream, in Jezira (RojInfo): in Tell Tamer, pro-Turkish mercenaries have started digging tunnels and building dams on the Khabur (SOHR). Diverting or blocking this river would allow them to deprive of water the entire Jezira region, whose rich agriculture depends almost entirely on irrigation. The situation has led several UN officials to express concern. In the midst of COVID-19, AANES said the ongoing water shortage was creating a humanitarian crisis and facilitating the spread of disease in the region (WKI).
Meanwhile, in the region of Afrin, occupied by the Turks and their jihadist mercenaries since March 2018, ethnic cleansing operations continue. According to a recent report by the Rojava Center for Strategic Studies (RCSS) (https://nrls.net/en/analizes/settlers-and-settlements-in-afrin/), Turkey’s forced displacement campaign in Afrin has reduced the territory’s original population by 75%, and pro-Turkish mercenaries and their families now make up at least 65% of the population. In addition, at least 7,500 Palestinians have been settled on specially confiscated Kurdish land. The Washington Kurdish Institute estimates that the Kurdish population of Afrin, estimated before the Turkish invasion at 95% of the total population, has now fallen to about 40%.
Among the agents of ethnic cleansing, the RojInfo website pointed in particular to the Turkish association “White Hands” (Beyaz Eller), affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, which works, within the framework of the Nur al-Huda project, on the construction of mosques in most of the villages located in occupied zones, and in particular in the Yezidi villages of Afrin. Attempts at forced conversion thus accompany a land spoliation characteristic of colonisation operations that one might have thought were from another time... The Afrin Human Rights Organisation has also reported on the construction of a new settlement in the Sherawa district of Afrin by the Sham Charity organisation to accommodate families of Syrian mercenaries from other areas, a project sponsored by the Qatari Red Crescent. This is the fourth such settlement. “Another settlement complex was built in the Yezidi village of Shadireh, also in the Sherawa district, by the White Hands and Living in Dignity associations, with the support and funding of the so-called People of Palestine 48 organisation”, RojInfo reports. Turkey benefits not only from the financial support of the Gulf States, but probably also from the European Union funds intended for the resettlement of refugees! SOHR also reported that Furqat al-Hamza (“Hamza Division”, known for having sent fighters to Libya) and Faylaq as-Sham have confiscated new Kurdish land in Afrin.
Finally, the RCSS notes that, in order to isolate the Kurds in Syria from those in Turkey, the Turkish state is taking up the old “Arab belt” project of the Syrian Ba’th, with one detail: this time it is a “Turkmen belt”, begun on the Syrian side of the border. As the RCSS points out, Erdoğan’s Turkey is taking up an Ottoman tradition of reinforcing its borders...
At the same time, the harassment of Kurdish civilians to drive them out of occupied areas continued. In the middle of the month, the SOHR reported that MIT officers and Syrian mercenaries arrested four Kurds, including a woman and two children, in the Afrin area. In addition, two pro-Turkish mercenary groups clashed again, this time the Suqur al-Shamal and Jaysh al-Nukhba (“Elite Army, formerly Jaysh al-Tahrir, “Liberation Army”) factions, most likely as always for control of resources looted from the inhabitants.
On the 12th, a series of artillery strikes on the hospital in al-Shifaa, in the Afrin region, killed 18 people, including 14 civilians, a toll that quickly rose to 21 dead and 23 wounded, including four health workers, at least two women and two children and a rebel commander. “The shooting targeted several areas of the city and hit the hospital”, the head of the SOHR told AFP. Ankara immediately accused the YPG (People’s Protection Units, affiliated to the PYD, People’s Unity Party, the main component of the Syrian Democratic Forces). Both the SDF and the YPG denied any involvement, with SDF commander Mazloum Abdi (Mazloum Kobanê) posting a message on Twitter stating: “The SDF categorically denies being responsible or involved in the tragic attack on the hospital in Afrin. We are deeply saddened by the loss of innocent lives and condemn the attack without reservation. Targeting hospitals is a violation of international law”. The Washington Kurdish Institute, apparently echoing a statement by Middle East Institute analyst Charles Lister, noted that the available evidence pointed to the Damascus regime, which has repeatedly targeted hospitals since the beginning of the Syrian civil war. On the 15th, Afrin was hit again, this time by a car bomb that killed two people and injured four others, followed by a similar attack on the 26th when a car bomb exploded at the entrance to the town, killing three people including a child and injuring several others (Kurdistan-24).
Tensions also continue to be high with Damascus. In Manbij and surrounding villages, on 31 May and 1st June, protests broke out against the AANES-imposed conscription for the SDF-affiliated Manbij Military Council forces. Damascus agents clearly played a provocative role, inciting protesters to attack the autonomous administration buildings. The Military Council, denouncing “attacks” on the premises of the forces of law and order, pointed the finger at actors seeking to “push the region towards chaos, [...] [using] the pretext of enlisting in self-defence”, whereas this “has been in force for seven years without any problem” (AFP). The death of a first demonstrator, killed by the shooting of security forces, provoked new protests. After giving an initial death toll of four, the SOHR reported that “six demonstrators were killed in 48 hours by gunfire from security forces [...] during demonstrations against compulsory conscription” (AFP). To defuse the situation, a meeting was held between local officials and Arab tribal leaders of the area (WKI). Conscription was finally suspended on the 2nd for discussions. The Military Council communiqué also announced the release of arrested protesters and the creation of a commission to investigate the violence of the previous days. Since late 2019, following an agreement between Damascus and the AANES, then facing a Turkish attack, regime soldiers are stationed in Manbij, and Damascus is clearly seeking to regain a foothold in the North, which it had to leave in 2012 (AFP).
As tensions began to rise in Manbij, the regime expressed its hostility towards the Kurds by targeting the inhabitants of Aleppo, whom the pro-Damascus Shabiha militiamen began to harass at the checkpoints separating the regime-held areas from the SDF-controlled neighbourhoods. During the first week of the month, more than fifteen inhabitants of the Ashrafieh and Sheikh Maqsoud neighbourhoods, mostly women and young people, were even arrested. The pro-Iranian militias, in particular the “Al-Baqer Brigade”, have been particularly brutal, and reports have even emerged of the death under torture of one of the civilians apprehended. In the last week of the month, in Raqqa, the 4th division of the regime’s army prevented Kurds from crossing its checkpoints to and from SDF-held areas, forcing some 20 Kurdish passengers to get off buses going to Damascus (SOHR).
The jihadist organisation ISIS still remains a danger, particularly in the Badiya as-Sham desert, as well as in Deir Ezzor province, where 23 Syrian soldiers were killed in early June. With the support of the international coalition, the SDF continues to conduct regular military operations against it in this province, and has been able to arrest four members of jihadist cells there. Checkpoints have been set up in Diban and Tayyana to hinder the movement of terrorists. The SDF announced mid-month that it had captured 17 terrorists in Busayrah (Deir Ezzor) on 22 June in raids. In addition, four jihadists responsible for several assassinations were arrested in Al-Hol camp. On 28 June, jihadists fired at a SDF base near the al-Omar oil field, east of Mayadin (Deir Ezzor), causing material damage, while the SDF announced that it had arrested 22 jihadists in Basirah (Deir Ezzor) (WKI).
On the 27th, SDF commander Mazloum Kobanê again called out the international community on Twitter about the relatives of jihadists: “To ensure a lasting victory [over ISIS], we must not forget that tens of thousands of women, children and fighters remain in IDP camps and detention centres [...]. We call on the Coalition to help return these people to their home countries, fund education and de-radicalisation programmes, and support stability and strong economic recovery in liberated areas to address the root causes of extremism” (Twitter).
Unfortunately, most of the countries concerned are still reluctant to take back their nationals. When AANES handed over four Dutch nationals close to ISIS fighters, a woman and her two children and a 12-year-old girl, to a diplomatic delegation that came to repatriate them on humanitarian grounds on the 5th, the event triggered criticism in the Netherlands and divided the outgoing government. One of the members of the delegation, Dutch special envoy to Syria Emiel de Bont, said that this “very specific consular mission” was the result of rulings by the “Dutch Court of Justice" [only applying] in these specific cases” (AFP). However, calls to end this “Guantanamo of Europe” situation, as the NGO Rights and Security International calls it, are multiplying. In particular, UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, have all called for the repatriation of the children detained in their best interests. In France, some 110 personalities, artists, doctors, academics or magistrates published on the 18th in Le Monde a tribune calling for the repatriation of French children and their mothers who have been detained for over two years in disastrous conditions (Le Monde).
Finally, concerning international relations, an AANES delegation was received in Paris on the 9th by the President of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Assembly, Jean-Louis Bourlanges. In addition to the Rojava representative in France, Khaled Issa, it included the co-chair of the AANES executive council, Hamdan al-Abd, the co-chair of the Raqqa Civil Council, Leyla Mustefa, and the co-chair of the Rojava University, Gulistan Sido. According to Al-Abd, the delegation asked for France’s support on several points: the involvement of the AANES in the political process and the drafting of the future Syrian constitution, in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2254; “international support for reconstruction and the setting up of development projects to eliminate unemployment and provide humanitarian support to the refugee camps in north-eastern Syria”, as well as support for the education and health sectors (Kurdistan au Féminin). Interviewed in Le Monde, Leyla Mustefa deplored the “almost insignificant” support afforded by the international coalition to the reconstruction of the city: “Vital infrastructures, such as water and electricity supply networks, have been annihilated. To make the city habitable again, we received minimal support from the international coalition, but it was almost insignificant compared to the destruction. So the new local authorities and the inhabitants had to take charge of the reconstruction effort themselves, street by street. Today, life is back in Rakka, with new inhabitants coming from the areas controlled by the regime and from the regions occupied by Turkey and its mercenaries. […] When our sons and daughters were fighting to retake Rakka from ISIS, we were the centre of international attention. But [now] we are practically alone. This situation is linked to Turkey’s position, which Western countries do not want to alienate completely”.
At the end of the month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced from Italy an additional $436 million in humanitarian assistance to vulnerable Syrians in Syria and neighbouring countries. The aid will be used to combat COVID-19 and provide access to “food, clean water, shelter, health care, nutrition, protection and education”.
The Turkish military operations in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq are becoming increasingly unbearable, both for the inhabitants and for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Since 23 April, the Turkish army, accompanied by its Syrian jihadist mercenaries, has launched attack after attack in the Region. The official objective, to fight the PKK guerrillas, does not convince the Kurds of the region, who fear, as in Rojava, a permanent Turkish occupation. It is true that Erdoğan’s “neo-Ottoman” line would fit very well with a “reconquest” of the Vilayet of Mosul, which historically included not only the present province of Nineveh (capital Mosul), but also the whole of the present Kurdistan Region of Iraq! Ankara’s army, which operates in the regions of Metinah, Zap and Avashin and in the border areas of the Kurdish province of Dohuk, has set up at least four new military bases in the Kurdistan Region, bringing the total to nearly forty.
Not only are Turkish aircraft or drone strikes causing property damage, setting fire to farmland and forests, and have forced residents of hundreds of villages to leave their homes (according to the Iraqi Ministry of Displaced Persons, 300 families, or about 1,500 people, have fled their villages), but Ankara’s military has begun to engage in activities that can only be described as looting, cutting down and taking trees to Turkey for sale. The International Crisis Group counted in May 2021 more than 40 civilians killed in the Kurdistan Region since 2015 due to the Turkey-PKK conflict. In addition, according to the Kurdistan Forestry and Environmental Police Directorate, Turkish bombing has caused the burning of more than 400 ha (4,000 donums) of land and green spaces in Duhok province since the beginning of the year...
In May, there were several reports of large-scale deforestation by Turkey in Dohuk province. According to local accounts, the Turkish military is cutting down trees to build roads in the areas where they have to operate. But other witnesses add that the trees are taken across the border to be sold. On 7 June, the Kurdish channel NRT published a video showing a truck full of logs coming down a mountain road, presented as taking them to Turkey (WKI). KRG complaints about this seem to have had little effect. On 31 May, it had asked Turkey in unusually strong terms to stop its “unacceptable” deforestation activities, and announced this officially in a statement that read: “The Kurdistan Regional Government expresses its concern and dissatisfaction with the Turkish government’s deforestation and environmental damage in the Kurdistan Region, and has officially warned Turkey to stop deforestation in the border areas, which is unacceptable”.
Furthermore, the “relocation” of the Ankara-PKK conflict to KRG territory led to a sharp increase in intra-Kurdish tension, particularly between the KDP and the PKK. On the 5th, the Peshmerga accused the PKK of an attack on one of their convoys going to Metîna that left five dead and seven wounded. The attack took place near the town of Amêdî, with both heavy and light weapons. The KRG issued a statement referring to the adversaries back to back: “The Ministry of Peshmerga demands immediate action by the Iraqi Federal Government to stop the ongoing Turkish military operations in the Kurdistan Region”, while calling on the PKK to “take its fight elsewhere, away from Kurdish homes and the Kurdistan Region” (Reuters). The People’s Defence Forces (HPG), the armed wing of the PKK, accused the peshmerga in a statement of having “entered a conflict zone in Metina” between the PKK and the Turkish army “which wants to occupy Iraqi Kurdistan”, adding: “These peshmerga movements are a stab in the back to the PKK and we refuse their entry into an area under our control” (AFP). On the 8th, unidentified assailants killed another peshmerga near Zakho. Following these incidents, a joint commission of enquiry between Kurdistan and Federal Parliaments is to visit the area (WKI). According to the mayor of the municipality, Adib Jaafar, however, “a peshmerga was killed by PKK fire while the peshmerga and Iraqi border guards were patrolling the Darkar area”, bordering Turkey (AFP).
At the same time, the Turkish air force launched several strikes on the Makhmour camp, 180 km south of the Turkish border, in the province of Nineveh. Makhmour hosts thousands of Kurds from Turkey who have been refugees in Iraq since the 1990s. On the 2nd, the Turkish President reiterated previous threats against the camp, accused of being a sanctuary for PKK militants, and said that Turkey could “clean up” Makhmour if Iraq or the UN were unable to do so: “If the UN does not clean up this place, then we will do it as a member of the UN”. On the 5th, a drone strike killed at least three people in the camp, all civilians. Ankara had ignored the warning issued the day before by the US Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who tweeted: “Yesterday I made it clear to Turkish officials that any attack on civilians in the Makhmour refugee camp would be a violation of international and humanitarian law.”... According to Rachad Galali, a Kurdish MP from Makhmour, the drone targeted “a kindergarten near a school”, and “three civilians were killed and two injured” (AFP). The next day, the Turkish President announced the elimination of the PKK leader in Makhmour, Selman Bozkir, nom de guerre “Doktor Hüseyin”.
The following week, the Turkish army carried out further strikes in Kurdistan, while ground clashes occurred between the Turkish military and PKK fighters near Avashin. On the other hand, following calls from several peshmerga commanders, Kurdish political figures and artists, who argued that an intra-Kurdish conflict would leave Turkey’s hands free to seize more territory and expand its military operations in the region, tensions between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the PKK decreased somewhat. On the 15th, KRG spokesman Jutyar Adil said that the KRG did not want war with the PKK: “We do not want an intra-Kurdish war under any circumstances [...]”, he said on Rûdaw. The PKK has made similar statements. A senior PKK leader, Murat Karayilan, warned that Turkey wanted nothing more than to see the KDP and PKK turn against each other. Adil said that one of the KRG’s fears was that the Kurdistan Region would be weakened by such a conflict: “We believe that the presence of this [PKK] force is an excuse for the Turkish army, whose main objective in our opinion is to weaken the Kurdistan Region as an entity”, he said. “The cause of the PKK is not in the Kurdistan Region or in Iraq. It is in Turkey. Their presence here has a political reason, and in our opinion, their politics are against the Kurdistan Region”, he added. For his part, a member of the leadership of the KCK (Union of Kurdistan Communities, a umbrella organisation including the PKK), Zubeyir Aydar, said in an interview with Rûdaw, that the PKK belongs to the Kurdistan Region, claiming that the Kurds should not define themselves by the international borders imposed on them: “The PKK is not a foreign force, but a Kurdish (Kurdistani) force”, he said, adding that the PKK respects the achievements and institutions of the Kurdistan Region and “wants to protect and develop them”.
Meanwhile, on the 11th, Turkey announced without giving details the elimination near Makhmour of a new PKK cadre, Hasan Adir, also known as “Salih Cizre”, one of the PKK leaders for the Makhmour area. Precedents suggest that this was a drone strike (AFP).
On the 15th, the senator and former national secretary of the French Communist Party Pierre Laurent called for solidarity with the Kurds in the face of Turkish intrusions and bombings. He was speaking from Erbil, where he had just arrived with a delegation of about a hundred personalities and activists from 14 European countries who had come to observe the consequences of the Turkish military offensive against Iraqi Kurdistan (l’Humanité). However, in the following two weeks, Turkish strikes continued. Targets were hit near Kanî Masî (Dohouk province) and in the sub-districts of Mawat and Halsho (Suleimaniyeh), and then in the last week of June, near Amêdî (Dohouk), causing the death of livestock and electricity cuts (WKI).
In the disputed territories between the Kurdistan Region and the Federal Government, ISIS continued its attacks throughout the month. Already at the end of May, security forces in Kirkuk province had been put on high alert, with a massive deployment in the capital and major cities. Searches were conducted on 1st June in five neighbourhoods and two markets in Kirkuk. The presence of ISIS is continuously felt, for example through jihadist graffiti on the walls of the city. On a positive note, this month saw the first joint operation between the Peshmerga and Iraqi forces, on the 6th in the east of Tuz Khurmatou. According to security sources, while the Iraqi air force supported the operation with five strikes, 13 tunnels used by ISIS were destroyed. On the 9th, a new mass grave was discovered in Sinjar, containing the bodies of 11 Yezidi men and women murdered by the jihadists. These were transferred to Baghdad for examination by forensic doctors (Kurdistan-24). Throughout the second half of the month, ISIS launched numerous attacks in the Hawija region, south of Kirkuk, to the extent that the Iraqi National Security Council warned Prime Minister al-Kadhimi that ISIS was re-establishing itself in the Kirkuk-Mosul-Tikrit triangle (WKI).
At the same time, the daily life of Kirkuk province inhabitants is dominated by the lack of basic services, water, electricity, waste collection, which regularly provoke demonstrations calling for the resignation of Governor Rakan Al-Jabouri. In early June, dozens of taxi drivers demonstrated against the shortage of petrol, and even non-Kurds said they regretted the management of the former Kurdish governor, Najmeddine Karim, whoi had been dismissed by Baghdad after the independence referendum in September 2017 and died in 2020. At the end of the month, a Kirkuk MP, Jamal Shkur, said the current Kirkuk governor was implicated in 62 cases of corruption over his use of public funds...
Since the return of the province to Iraqi control in October 2017, it has become the main route for drug trafficking, mainly by the pro-Iranian Hashd al-Shaabi militias. The commander of the police department in charge of combating this traffic, Homa Rawouf, recently said that 170 people had been arrested in 2021 for drug trafficking...
In Sinjar, the same Hashd al-Shaabi threatened to confront the Turkish army if it tried to invade the town, as Ankara regularly threatens. On the 14th, the Iraqi Interior Minister, Othman al-Ghanimi, announced the formation of a new local police force of 1,500 Yezidis to ensure the security of the city. Several armed forces are present in the city, including the Hashd militia, PKK-affiliated groups, the Iraqi army and peshmerga units in the suburbs. The security agreement reached between Baghdad and Erbil district is still awaiting implementation...
In addition, new anti-American strikes took place in the Kurdistan Region. On the night of the 26th, three drones loaded with explosives targeted the US consulate in Erbil, but did not hit it. Two of the drones damaged a house while a third failed to detonate. The attempts, attributed to the pro-Iranian Hashd al-Shaabi militia, were condemned by the US consulate. Since the beginning of the year, some 43 attacks have targeted US interests in the country. In early June, three drones had already targeted Baghdad airport, where US soldiers are also deployed, after five rockets were fired earlier in the day at an air base where US companies operate (AFP).
Regarding the KRG budget, the agreement reached between the KRG and the federal government and the adoption of the federal budget at the end of March have still not resulted in any payment of the KRG’s share. A delegation headed by Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani stayed in Baghdad for four days earlier this month to try to finalise the budget implementation mechanism. On the 6th, KRG spokesman Jutyar Adil said that two important files would be sent to Baghdad within the week, one specifying the production costs of oil produced in the Region, the other concerning federal non-oil revenues. Adil added that he believed that the budget would be implemented soon, and that part of the agreement had already been implemented. The delay in the implementation of the budget continues to cause delays in the payment of salaries to civil servants in the Kurdistan Region (Rûdaw). As of the 15th of this month, despite previous discussions, no concrete progress had been made. However, according to a Baghdad-Erbil agreement announced on the 14th by the KRG Prime Minister, budgetary payments to Kurdistan were to resume shortly and take into account the months since January. On the 16th, the KRG Council of Ministers met under the leadership of Prime Minister Masrour Barzani to review the state of discussions with Baghdad. Based on the payment forecasts, it was decided that government offices would resume normal working hours from the following week.
Furthermore, the issue of the Kurdistan budget seems to have become a matter of conflict between different blocs in the Baghdad parliament, some of them using it to launch attacks against Prime Minister Al-Kadhimi. On the 25th, after the parliamentary finance committee publicly announced its disagreement with the sending of any money to the Kurdistan Region, Kadhimi intervened on Al-Iraqiyya stating that the opposition to the sending of money to the Kurdistan Region was just an electoral ploy, and reaffirmed the right of Kurdistan to its budget and the right of KRG officials to their salaries... “The claims of Iraqi politicians and bureaucrats that money will be sent to the Kurdistan Region without Erbil fulfilling its obligations are false”, he said (Kurdistan-24).
Finally, regarding the COVID-19 epidemic, on 28 June, the Iraqi Health Minister announced 6,346 new cases in the last 24 hours. After peaking in April, the epidemic had seen some decline in May and up to the beginning of June, but it seems to be picking up again with what the Minister described as a “third wave”, more deadly than the first two.