As part of his trip to Iraq, where he co-chaired in Baghdad a regional conference co-organised by the Iraqi authorities and France that brought together, in particular, Iraq’s neighbouring countries, the President of the French Republic went to Iraqi Kurdistan on 29 August where he was given a very warm welcome.
During his meetings with the President of Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani, his predecessor Masoud Barzani, the Prime Minister and the President of the Parliament, he underlined the importance of the historical ties between the Kurdish and French peoples. These ties have deepened and strengthened in the joint fight against ISIS where Kurdish fighters from Iraq and Syria have played a decisive role, he added. "France does not forget its friends and never abandons them. It will remain in solidarity with the Kurdish people and will work for the continuation of dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad for the stability and sovereignty of Iraq."
The meetings took place in a cordial and warm atmosphere.
It was from Erbil that the president was able to travel to Mosul to meet with Christian communities and visit the reconstruction site, financed by the United Arab Emirates, of the historic Nuri mosque in the city where the leader of ISIS had proclaimed his “Islamic caliphate” and destroyed by this jihadist organization during the battle of Mosul.
According to the Elysée palace, President Macron was also able during his stay to talk with Nadia Murad, a Yezidi and 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner, whom he had already received at the Elysée in October 2017 and then in October 2018. The discussions focused on the situation of the Yezidi communities, particularly in Sinjar, and on women’s rights.
Aggressions and abuses by the Turkish military or their Syrian surrogates continue in Rojava. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), on the morning of August 3, rocket fire on the village of Al-Safawiya, east of Ain-Issa, killed four members of the same family, a man and three children, including two girls, while the mother and another girl, wounded, were hospitalized in Raqqa. The village is located near the strategic M4 highway, which Turkey has been seeking to control since October 2019 to prevent east-west communications inside the AANES-administered territory (Rûdaw). Other strikes on the same area left one person injured, and ground clashes pitted the Christian city of Tal Tamer and Manbij Military Councils against pro-Turkish Syrian mercenaries. In the second week of August, further artillery fire on villages near Tal Tamer injured a woman, angering residents. They blame the Russian military for not playing its role as guarantor of the ceasefire agreed in October 2019... In a recent report, the Manbij Military Council estimates that Turkish air strikes and artillery fire have since 2016 killed 30 civilians and wounded at least 67 (WKI).
During the week of the 16th, pro-Turkish mercenaries launched new attacks against AANES. On the 17th, fire on Zagan (Abu Rasain) killed one woman and wounded sixteen others. On the 19th, an airstrike on a Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) position in Tal Tamer killed four fighters, including a woman, and between Qamishli and Hasakeh, a Turkish drone strike killed a People’s Defence Units (YPG) officer in his car. Other attacks targeted Kobane on the 21st and the vicinity of Manbij on the 22nd. The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC, the representative body of Rojava) denounced in a statement the inaction of Russia and the anti-ISIS coalition in the face of the incessant Turkish attacks: “The SDC holds the government of the Russian Federation responsible for the Turkish attacks. We also call on the US-led coalition to clarify its position on the Turkish hostilities and the international community to condemn the Turkish attacks”. In the last week of August, new strikes hit several Christian towns west of Tal Tamer, villages near Ain Issa, and resettlement areas for displaced Kurds from Afrin, near Tal Rifaat and Shahba (WKI).
Turkish border guards also continue their abuses against Syrian Kurdish refugees trying to enter Turkey: On the night of the 7th to the 8th near Qamishli, a 14-year-old teenager and a 34-year-old man were thus arrested and then tortured, and an 11-year-old child and a 25-year-old woman were allegedly raped... The victims, who were savagely beaten before being sent back over the Syrian side of the border wall, which is several metres high, gave their testimony to the Rojava Hawar News Agency (ANHA).
The various pro-Turkish factions also continue to compete for their share of the plunder, as in Afrin Ahrar as-Sharqiya. The U.S. State Department actually sanctioned the group on July 28 for its “numerous crimes against civilians, particularly Syrian Kurds”, mentioning “homicides, kidnappings, torture and confiscations”, and also accuses the group of having integrated former members of ISIS (WKI).
On 11 November, members of the “Noureddine Zengi Brigade” kidnapped a villager near Jendires, claiming that he belonged to a Kurdish party; on 12 December, thirteen other civilians, including ten from the village of Kartalak Kabir, were kidnapped for ransom by fighters of the “Sultan Murad Brigade”, which is made up mainly of Syrian Turkmen and Turkish Grey Wolves. These are just some of the recent reports of kidnappings. In Afrin itself, clashes have broken out between the “military police” set up by the Turks and the Jahbat al-Shamia... The “Sultan Murad Brigade” has put several villages under a total curfew of up to ten days (SOHR). In Qartalaq, the curfew lasted for four days: the militiamen reportedly took revenge on the inhabitants who had managed to recover their confiscated property by complaining to the Turkish forces... The villages of Mash’alah and Matnali, in the district of Sharran, were also isolated. In Qartalaq, 29 civilians, including several women, were “arrested”, and later testified that they had been tortured and subjected to “inhuman and degrading treatment” (SOHR). In Mabata, pro-Turkish mercenaries also murdered a Kurd from Afrin named Rithwan Abdul Rahim, who had tried to get back his olive grove.
Concerning the plundering organized by the Turkish state and its Islamist mercenaries, journalist Maxime Azadi has conducted a long investigation into the sales channels on the world market of Afrin olive oil. His conclusions are damning. Before the Turkish invasion, the mountain of Afrin had at least 18 million olive trees. “According to economists [the author notes], olive oil production in 2018 in Afrin was about 50,000 tons and was valued at 130 million euros. The pro-Turkish Syrian mercenaries would therefore have reaped as the price of their services a loot exceeding 90 million euros”. The looted Kurdish goods, olive oil, but also “Aleppo” soap and other products, are sold throughout Europe, but also in Canada and the United States. In Europe, after Spain, Germany has now become the centre of the traffic. The stolen oil first passes through Turkey, from where it is very officially exported to Germany and other European countries, including France and Denmark, by the Turkish Standards Authority TSE. In Germany, the main warehouse is in Magdeburg. It is difficult to estimate the actual quantity of looted goods sold in this way, because while some openly announce the origin as “Syria” or even “Afrin-Aleppo”, others display a pseudo Turkish origin. All olive-based products from Turkey are therefore suspect. Besides, in terms of international law, the inability of European states to prevent these imports of looted goods makes them complicit in the crimes committed in Afrin and complicit in the financing of terrorism, since the proceeds of the sales go to the looters.
Meanwhile, the residents of Rojava continue to suffer from a record drought, which after a decade of war, threatens their very survival. The flow of the Euphrates River has dropped by half, threatening electricity production: another 10 cm drop and the turbines of the Tishrin dam will stop. According to Welat Darwish, director of the AANES Energy Directorate, electricity production has already fallen by 70% over the past year, and farmers are suffering daily power cuts of up to 19 hours... International organisations, analysts and engineers are all warning of an imminent humanitarian disaster. Turkey denies, however, using water as a weapon by withholding it, ensuring that it is itself facing a historic drought... It is true that for Ankara, which controls the Allouk pumping station since 2019, it is easier to cut the tap at this location. The Turks did not hesitate to do so in the past: since that date, Allouk, which supplies nearly half a million inhabitants, has been according to the UN cut off no less than 24 times (AFP).
As regards relations with the regime, which are still tense on the ground, a new diplomatic row occurred with Damascus after the AANES opened a representation in Geneva on the 9th. This opening is somewhat paradoxical insofar as the Autonomous Administration is still excluded by the Turkish veto from the discussions on the future of Syria which are held in this city under the aegis of the United Nations. AANES Vice President Badran Chia Kurd said the office was aimed at “developing relations [...] with the Swiss government and people”. Not surprisingly, just hours after the announcement of the opening, the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss chargé d’affaires in Turkey. Then on the 24th, Syria in turn officially “condemned” the opening of this “illegal” office and sent a memorandum to the Swiss authorities calling on them to reconsider their decision to authorize the opening: “The opening of the so-called AANES Representation to the Swiss Confederation [...] violates the latter’s obligations with regard to international law and the United Nations Charter concerning the principles of non-interference in the affairs of other countries and respect for their sovereignty and independence” (SANA). The AANES representative in Geneva, Hikmat Ibrahim, reacted by “regretting” these statements: “It is this exclusionary mentality that has put the country in its current situation” (North Press Agency). Yet on the 14th, the Syrian president had, for the first time since the start of the revolution in 2011, mentioned in positive terms the decentralization of the country. During the swearing-in of his new government, Bashar al-Assad had indeed declared that “decentralization makes it possible to achieve balanced development between the different Syrian regions”. But the fact remains that, despite Russian mediation, the discussions between the AANES and Damascus have so far failed to achieve any significant progress.
In addition, the SDF have continued their fight against ISIS throughout the month, announcing earlier this month the capture of two jihadists near Shaddadi. In Syria, ISIS has adopted the same strategy as in neighbouring Iraq, attacking power lines in order to create disorder; in particular, attacks have targeted several pylons near the camp of Al-Hol... On the 7th, four children were injured by a homemade bomb near Kobane. In mid-August, the SDF announced the arrest of 36 jihadists in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor governorates, including “three terrorists suspected of collaborating with Turkish forces”. Weapons, ammunition and explosives were also seized in U.S.-backed counterterrorism raids. In the last week of the month, another 20 jihadists were apprehended in Abu Khashab and Diban (Deir Ezzor). But the organization remains highly dangerous: on the 29th two SDF members were killed in an ambush near Jedîd Ekedat and three others wounded (WKI).
In terms of relations with the United States, after the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and the subsequent chaotic collapse in the face of the Taliban, the SDF has expressed concern, especially since it has already suffered a sudden American withdrawal in September 2019, which had paved the way for the Turkish invasion, and American laissez-faire in the face of the Turkish invasion of Afrin in 2018... The Biden administration has sought after its arrival to reassure its allies on the ground. General Kenneth F. McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, and Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood, were dispatched to the area. On August 1st, the commander of the U.S. Joint Task Force Inherent Resolve, Lt. Gen. Paul T. Calvert, attended the annual SDF Military Councils conference. Thanking the SDF for their contribution to the fight against ISIS, he assured that he would continue to support them and maintain joint action with them until ISIS cells are eliminated (SDF Press). On the SDF side, Commander-in-Chief Mazloum Kobanê was cautiously optimistic. Describing some improvement in relations with Washington in the seven months since President Biden took office, he said he expects relative stability to prevail in North-eastern Syria “if America keeps its promises”. That is the question.
In August the Turkish army continued its air strikes and ground operations in Iraqi Kurdistan. It still justifies its military presence by its fight against the PKK, but the permanence, scale and violence of the operations are increasingly looking like a full-scale invasion. Moreover, the Ankara military continues to show its usual contempt for the protection of civilian lives in its theatres of operation. Already, dozens of civilians have been killed and thousands more from hundreds of villages have had to flee their homes. The deputy governor of Dohuk province estimated in early August that the fires caused by Turkish air strikes and artillery fire had destroyed 3,000 hectares and caused $20 million in damage.
At the beginning of the month, Turkish strikes hit the Qandil Mountains, Bradost, and the area around Zakho. Military planes and drones then targeted Shiladze and Kani Masi (Dohuk). In Kista, the military forbade the inhabitants, under penalty of execution, to repair the damage caused to the electrical infrastructure by their strikes. The Turks also suffered casualties. On the 12th, a soldier was killed by mortar fire on one of the many bases set up on Iraqi territory. Ankara announced that it had retaliated and “neutralized three terrorists”. The next day, a Kurdish civilian, father of seven, was killed by Turkish fire on his farm near Kani Masi, while other strikes caused forest fires in the vicinity of the village of Hiror and Mount Metin (WKI). On the 16th, three Turkish soldiers were killed and one wounded by a homemade bomb, and another died in ground fighting with the PKK (AFP). The following week, two tourists from Mosul were killed near Batifa (Dohuk). Turkish strikes continued until the end of the month, notably in the Amêdî region (Dohouk), and on the refugee camp of Makhmur.
The Turkish strikes particularly targeted the Yezidi region of Sinjar (Shengal), considered by Turkey almost as a “second Qandîl” (referring to the PKK’s mountain headquarters). Particularly targeted have been members of the “Sindjar Protection Units” (YPŞ), a Yezidi self-defence militia formed after the ISIS attack by residents of the district with the assistance of the PKK and PYD, since integrated into the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Units) militia system, dependent on the Iraqi government. Other Yezidis have preferred to form peshmerga brigades under the Kurdistan Regional Government. Through these two competing structures, Baghdad and Erbil are in fact fighting over the administration of the district, which officially belongs to Baghdad. Seven years after the genocide perpetrated by ISIS, while the fate of 3,000 Yezidis, mainly women, remains unknown, reconstruction and resettlement of displaced Yezidis are at a standstill. Out of 400,000 inhabitants before 2014, 180,000 are still displaced, and those who try to return often have to leave again quickly because of the danger and the lack of basic services, to the point that there is now talk of a “second wave” of displacement... On March 1st, a law was passed in the Iraqi parliament to compensate Yezidi women abducted by jihadists, but without any budget (Le Figaro). Last October, the two governments signed an agreement under the auspices of the UNAMI (UN mission in Iraq) according to which the Peshmerga and Iraqi forces should withdraw from the city, whose security would then be ensured by a locally recruited police force. Other armed forces and militias would then have to leave the district. To date, the agreement has not been implemented.
The incessant Turkish strikes obviously do nothing to improve the situation. On the 16th, a drone strike on a YPŞ vehicle killed a commander and his nephew and injured three civilians (WKI). AFP for its part announced the death of three YPŞ fighters including a brigade commander. The next day, three more drone strikes on a clinic in the city totally destroyed it and killed at least eight people: four YPŞ members, a doctor and three nurses. On the 18th, the Iraqi National Security Council, chaired by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, “condemned unilateral military actions that violate the principles of good neighbourliness” (AFP). The US State Department reacted on Twitter by reaffirming its “view that military action in Iraq must respect Iraqi sovereignty”.
On the 21st, the Turkish President denied that the target of the raid had been a clinic, describing the place as “a shelter for the terrorist organisation” (AFP). This statement was denied by the Yezidis, while the Iraqi commander of operations in western Nineveh denied that he had allowed PKK members to return to Sinjar, as the Turks claimed. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for UNAMI, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, called for the implementation of the Baghdad-Erbil agreement on Sinjar, joining Kurdish officials in this demand. In a report published in early August, the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE, https://www.icsve.org/) denounced a Turkish aggression that has continued uninterrupted since April 2017 in the silence of the international community, and called for international monitoring of Turkish activities, hammering that “seven years after a devastating genocide, the Yezidis have the right to rebuild without fear of death from above”.
In the disputed territories, the jihadists of ISIS have continued their attacks and in particular their sabotage of the electricity grid. The aim is to generate discontent among the population by depriving them of power during the hottest months of the year, while luring security forces into deadly ambushes. On August 4th, the Ministry of Electricity reported that within 48 hours, ISIS had blown up 13 electricity pylons carrying electricity between Kirkuk, Mosul and Tikrit. Since May, ISIS terrorists have destroyed more than 160 electricity pylons... (WKI)
A glimmer of hope for improved security came when, on the 5th, General Tala’at Abulkhaliq, representing the Ministry of Peshmerga in the Joint Command established between Baghdad and Erbil, announced the forthcoming return of two divisions to the disputed territories where they would operate in coordination with the Iraqi military. It remains to be seen whether this decision will be implemented in practice. On the 18th in Kirkuk, the Ankara-backed Turkmen Front rejected this agreement and called on Baghdad to retain control over security in the province. Yet since the withdrawal of the peshmerga in 2017, security has steadily deteriorated... In the middle of the month, Baghdad and Erbil finally finalized an agreement providing for the formation of two joint brigades to ensure security in the disputed territories. The Iraqi Ministry of Defence said it would seek approval for their budget from the Prime Minister (WKI).
In addition to ambushes, ISIS also detonated homemade bombs, such as on the 6th in a market in Kirkuk, fortunately without causing any casualties. The jihadists also blew up an oil pipeline on the 5th in Sargaran. On the 8th, they kidnapped three workers who were digging wells near Al-Zab. On the night of the 16th, ISIS launched three simultaneous attacks against the federal police in Zab and Daqouq, killing three policemen and wounding one soldier. On the 17th, unclaimed gunfire at a Muharram mourning ceremony killed one and wounded two in Kirkuk, an attack that bears the hallmarks of ISIS’s anti-Shiite hatred. Finally, on the 30th, an improvised explosive device targeted a bridge construction site in Sohail, Daquq, killing one worker and injuring ten, including eight police officers posted as protection.
The Khanaqin region, near the Iranian border, also suffered numerous attacks: against soldiers (four killed on the 4th), against electricity pylons, etc. However, the Iraqi Anti-Terrorism announced to have eliminated a jihadist leader on the 4th near the Hamrin Mountains, and in Germyan, a court pronounced on the 19th the death sentence of a jihadist from Uzbekistan, responsible for a 2014 attack that had killed four people in Qaratapa. The mayor of Khanaqin, Bawer Azad Ali, said on the 12th that terrorized residents continued to flee the area, and that between Khanaqin, Jalawla, and Qaratapa, 17 villages had now been abandoned... Other attacks targeted Tuz Khurmatu, where on the 17th, peshmerga and the Iraqi army conducted a joint operation for the first time that uncovered and destroyed a tunnel and caches of weapons and uniforms.
Near Makhmur, the jihadists set up a fake checkpoint on the Erbil road on 7 July, where they abducted five travellers and wounded three others. They committed other kidnappings in the area, including a Kurdish shepherd on the 9th, but also members of the Shammar and Jabour Arab tribes... They demanded ransoms of up to 400,000 dollars for their prisoners, whom they led to the Qarachokh Mountains, which has become their sanctuary. By the end of the month, they had released three of their prisoners for a sum of $100,000 each.
In the disputed territories, which follow the Iraqi electoral calendar, with early parliamentary elections scheduled for October 10, the issue of the electorate is very sensitive. If the Kurds are fleeing the insecurity caused by jihadist attacks, they are also confronted with the hostility of the pro-Iranian Shiite militias and the resumption of the Arabisation policy as it had been instituted by the Ba’athist regime. On the 12th, the Iraqi Ministry of Education announced the hiring of 10,655 teachers for Kirkuk, only 8% of whom were Kurds... In Khanaqin, three pro-Iranian Shiite parties demonstrated on the 12th in front of the town hall to express their refusal of the return of the Peshmergas. On the 26th, the Khanaqin Human Rights Organization estimated that since October 16, 2017, when Baghdad regained control of the province, due to attacks by ISIS but also due to the revival of the Arabization process after that date, 4,230 Kurdish families had left Khanaqin and the surrounding villages (WKI). In Kirkuk, the Arab coalition and the Turkmen Front have demonstrated several times in front of the headquarters of the Electoral Commission to challenge its leadership and to accuse it of having wrongly cancelled 50,000 electoral cards. However, many Kurds have not been able to get theirs back, as in Tuz Khurmatu: they have had to leave their homes since 2017.
On the 19th, after a four-year absence from Kirkuk, the KDP announced its return to the province and its participation in the legislative elections. The party’s candidate, Shakhawan Abdullah, said that he would not reopen his former headquarters in Kirkuk, which was still occupied by Iraqi forces, but that he would open two campaign offices in Kirkuk, one in Tuz Khurmatou and two in Khanaqin. However, it was learned on the 24th that both the Shiite militias and the Iraqi army would have to abandon the former KDP premises where they had set up. At the end of the month, the Iraqi army carried out several raids on the homes of Kurds in the city, apparently in preparation for moving its headquarters near the Kurdish quarter.
As in neighbouring Syria, the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and its disastrous consequences have caused concern among the Kurds. In an attempt to allay this concern, the American Consul Robert Palladino held a press conference in Erbil on the 31st, during which he assured them that the Americans were in Iraq “for the long term”.
In early August, severe fires devastated Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. In less than a week, due to scorching temperatures, very dry soil and strong winds, nearly 130 fires had broken out by the end of the previous month. Many of them were extinguished, but the government’s delay in responding meant that the most serious fires spread rapidly. On the 5th, thousands of firefighters, police, soldiers and villagers were still battling 17 fires, a thermal power plant was threatened, and the seaside resort of Oren had to be evacuated by the navy. The government was criticised for its slow response. Accused of unpreparedness, the Turkish President reacted in his usual way by attacking the opposition, which he accused of practising the “terror of lies”. He did not hesitate to blame the stricken municipalities, many of which are in the hands of the opposition CHP. Yet the targeted mayors had never been invited to participate in the coordination meetings organized by the government, and some had for a week requested in vain the deployment of water-bombing planes. Mr. Erdoğan, moreover, was forced to admit that Turkey did not have water bombers in working order, an admission following which 2.5 million Turkish Internet users called on Twitter under the hashtag #helpturkey for foreign air intervention. The government was quick to crack down on these exasperated citizens: the Ankara public prosecutor opened an investigation against those who, according to him, had tried to create “anxiety, fear, panic” among the population and, above all, had “humiliated” the Turkish state and government! However, foreign help had to be called in, and planes came from Azerbaijan, Croatia, Spain, Russia and Ukraine...
A convenient scapegoat was quickly found: the Kurdish guerrilla party PKK. Mr. Erdoğan himself announced on the 4th the arrest of suspects whose families were “affiliated with the PKK”. Pro-AKP newspapers even accused the United States (well-known allies of the PKK...) of being behind the fires, while others, like ultranationalist Admiral Cihat Yayci, denounced a Greek plot! Numerous tweets with the hashtag #PKKyakiyor (“It is the PKK that is setting the fire”) flooded social networks.
These hateful messages have fuelled general paranoia and encouraged an already exacerbated anti-Kurdish racism. It should be remembered that on 30 July, seven members of the same Kurdish family were murdered in their home in Meram (Konya). The family, who had lived in Konya for more than 20 years, had been threatened on 12 May by their ultranationalist neighbours, who had called themselves Grey Wolves (Ulkucular, “idealists”). They had gone on trial on July 12, but that did nothing to prevent the murder, carefully planned on Whatsapp... Two days after the massacre, on the evening of 1st August, nearly 300 fascists attacked a family of Kurdish seasonal workers in Elmalı (Antalya); 16 people, including children, had to leave the village under the protection of gendarmes, who according to a relative living in Izmir told them: “We can’t do anything. Leave this place for your safety” (Le Monde). Armed groups started to control vehicles registered outside the provinces affected by the fires. Some Kurds living near the affected areas narrowly escaped lynching, including in Manavgat and Aydın. On the 4th, the same day that the alleged Konya assassin Mehmut Altun was arrested, a group of ultranationalists in Aydın blocked a car carrying three Kurds, accused them of setting the forest on fire and started beating them with pickaxes. Arriving at the scene, the gendarmerie arrested the three lynched passengers. In Antalya, fascist gangs attacked Kurds and their houses. In Çorum, another group of Turkish fascists attacked and wounded five Kurdish agricultural workers. Moreover, several Kurds who had demonstrated in protest against the massacre of the Kurdish family in Konya were arrested and charged! Syrian refugees were also attacked. In Ankara, a mob of over a hundred people attacked Syrians and the businesses they run. The violence was reportedly sparked after a young Turkish man was stabbed to death in a fight between Turkish and Syrian teenagers... (WKI)
Natural disasters were not limited to the fires on the Aegean coast. In late July and early August, heavy rains in the east of the country, from the Black Sea coast to the southern border, caused major flooding and mud torrents that killed 77 people; by mid-August 47 people were still missing. In villages in the districts of Başkale, Özalp, Erciş, Çaldıran and Gürpınar (Van), 400 houses and hundreds of square kilometers of farmland were drowned, and about 1,000 animals perished. The villagers, lacking state assistance, had to largely fend for themselves. Unlike the Black Sea town of Rize, which was declared a disaster area after the 23 July flood, the Kurdish town of Van was left to its own devices by the authorities. The villagers have denounced this inaction as well as the lack of protection work for years. The “pro-Kurdish” HDP party has called for a parliamentary inquiry into the matter, with HDP MPs blaming “policies that have destroyed the environmental and ecological balance”. Some residents also recalled the lack of state aid after the 2011 earthquake, which forced many residents to leave Van...
From mid-August onwards, finally, numerous forest fires hit the province of Dersim. Imprisoned Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş denounced from his cell the government’s inability to stop them; casting suspicion on the causes of its inaction, he told: “Most of the forests in this region are deliberately set on fire and no one is allowed to intervene. This is a deliberate and official policy that has been going on for decades” (WKI). RojInfo reported that the fires, which started on the 17th near Hozat and spread to Ovacik, were caused by Turkish army operations and that the authorities prevented the inhabitants and NGOs from fighting the fires! Other fires, which started on the 29th near Yayladere (Bingöl), were still not under control on the 31st. The helicopters left before the flames were extinguished, so the villagers had to continue to fight the fires on their own. Fires also hit the Şırnak region, and another one started on the 30th in Bitlis. In Besta, a fire started on the 29th by the bombing of a military helicopter fortunately ended up extinguishing itself (RojInfo).
At the same time, the authorities continued their repression of the HDP. In the second week of August, more than 100 Kurds were arrested in Diyarbakir, Van, Mardin, Batman and Adana. Among them was Muş HDP co-chair Belma Nergiz, who was accused of posting messages on social media critical of the government. Those jailed were charged with “propaganda for” and “acting on behalf of a terrorist organization”. The following week, new charges were brought against the already imprisoned former deputy Leyla Guven. Jin News revealed that a new case had been launched against Guven, already sentenced to 22 years in prison, and eight of her fellow inmates, for singing Kurdish revolutionary songs, described by the prison administration as an “incomprehensible language”. At the end of the month, the former Kurdish mayor of Şırnak, Serhat Kadırhan, was arrested for “membership of a terrorist organization”. He faces 22 years in prison (WKI).
In the face of the continuing threat of closure, the HDP has not been idle. It has launched a series of new public meetings and slogans this month aimed at preventing the Turkish government from imposing the closure of the party. As part of this campaign, HDP co-chair Pervin Buldan took part in a meeting in Yüksekova (Hakkari) early in this month, during which she addressed the gathered crowd. The following week, co-chairman Mithat Sancar in turn addressed a similar public meeting in Şırnak, saying: “Either we pave the way for democracy, peace, justice, freedom, or this sinister order will continue to dominate for some time...”. Thousands of HDP supporters took part in another rally in Siirt, organized under the slogan “Time for Freedom”. In the last week of August, more HDP rallies took place, and also a meeting between HDP and several NGOs in Gaziantep.
Barring further delay, Turkey’s Constitutional Court is expected to rule on the closure procedure by the end of September. The HDP has asked for more time to prepare its defence, a request to which the Court may respond in early September.
The government is also tightening its grip on the media. The RTÜK (Radio and Television Supreme Council) fined several media on 11 November for “ethical violations” while a bill was being drafted to criminalise foreign financing of the media. Fox-TV was fined because one of its journalists described the recent fires as a “nightmare”. Press photographers covering the fires, opposition demonstrations or LGBT events (an AFP photographer) were also intimidated in a very disturbing way, sometimes physically, and had their equipment confiscated or their photos deleted. Conversely, journalists who are close to the government are not bothered, even when they call for hatred or publish fake news, such as the pro-AKP daily Sabah, which on 2nd August published a bogus interview with the German conservative candidate Armin Laschet in which the latter declared his “immoderate love” for Turkey! (Le Monde). Censorship also strikes the web. According to the Association for Freedom of Expression (IFÖD), which published its annual report on 16 August under the title “Farenheit 5651”, in 14 years, i.e. since the law regulating the Internet was passed in 2007, and until the end of 2020, Turkey has blocked 467,011 websites, 7,500 Twitter accounts, 50,000 tweets, 12,000 YouTube videos, 8,000 Facebook posts and 6,800 Instagram posts... (Bianet)
The new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, was sworn in on 5 August before the Iranian Majlis (parliament). Beginning by advocating “intra-regional dialogue” and “friendship and brotherhood with all countries in the region, especially neighbouring countries”, this ultraconservative was quick to contradict his own words by committing Iran to resist the “extravagance of the arrogant and oppressive powers”, especially in Syria, Yemen and Palestine. Internally, he praised the “religious democracy” he said the Islamic Republic represents. This does not bode well for the opponents who know that Raisi has on his hands the blood of thousands of them who were murdered in the regime’s prisons in 1988.
The crackdown on drought protests that began in mid-July in Khuzestan and then spread throughout the country continued. The protesters were outraged by the mismanagement and inaction of the authorities, the lack of preventive measures for years, and above all by a policy of plundering the resources of the peripheral provinces without any aid in return. Initially peaceful, the movement became more radical following a ruthless repression that left dozens dead, and then spread to other provinces (notably Kurdistan). It turned into a social movement, with workers’ strikes (notably that of the sugar company Haft-Tappeh Agro Industry, which entered its fifth week in the middle of the month), and then political, with slogans calling for the overthrow of the regime. Despite the blackout, information on the scale of the demonstrations (and their repression) is gradually emerging. The HRANA press agency announced on the 5th that it had identified 361 detainees, while indicating that their real number must be much higher, since the Tehran newspaper Hamshahri estimated on that date that the town of Susangerd alone had 300 prisoners, after demonstrations that had brought together more than 12,000 people, i.e. 10% of the population! Hamshahri thus contradicted the governor of Khuzestan, Qassem Soleimani Dashtaki, according to whom “there have been no protests in the cities of Khorramshahr and Susangerd”.
As of the end of August, the number of deaths from the COVID-19 epidemic was approaching 400,000. The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), part of the exiled opposition NCRI, which compiles its own figures from regional data, reported more than 346,400 deaths in 547 cities as of August 3. By the 30th, the number was 394,000, hence 50,000 victims in one month. This count is, as usual, three and a half times higher than the official figures... According to an ISNA report, in Kermanshah, the medical school reported on the 30th that the daily rate of deaths due to COVID-19 had doubled in the last week of August compared to July, and was six times higher than in June... (CNRI)
For the opposition, the regime is responsible for this catastrophe on several levels. First, the ban on the import of foreign vaccines promulgated by Khamenei last January irreparably delayed the vaccination campaign. Secondly, the vaccines finally acquired abroad, notably the Chinese Sinopharm, as well as the locally produced Barekat vaccine, proved to be much less effective than those rejected by the Supreme Leader. Moreover, the orders were not fully honoured, or only after long delays... Finally, the distribution of the doses was tainted by a well-prepared corruption that allowed various companies close to the government, and in particular the Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran), to profit from it. A black market resulted in “outrageous prices, affordable only to the ruling elite in a country where the vast majority of the population now lives below the poverty line” (CNRI).
In Kurdistan, a COVID alert was issued on the 19th on Mahabad prison, where several inmates showed symptoms. According to the Mukriyan news agency, the prison administration refused to test the inmates and denied treatment to several of them... On the 24th, HRANA reported that vaccinations had begun in several prisons in the country, including Urmia’s and Evin (Tehran). Prisoners were sometimes forced to accept the Iranian vaccine “Barekat”, which some refused, doubting its production conditions and concerned that it had not been approved by the WHO. In some prisons, vaccination had to be suspended because of a lack of doses. The percentage of inmates vaccinated appears to have remained low, although the situation varies by location. In addition, the conditions of detention mean that other health measures, such as hygiene or distancing, are impossible to really implement.
The crackdown continued in Kurdistan, where cross-border Kurdish porters, or kolbars, continue to be shot on sight. The pasdaran killed one kolbar and wounded six others in Baneh, Marivan and Piranshahr. On the 4th, eight more were injured and three killed in an accident near Baneh. Finally, a kolbar was found dead near the Qasr-e Sherin (Kermanshah) border crossing (WKI).
The news agency HRANA also reported numerous arrests aimed at preventing the spread of the protests from Khuzestan. The Etelaat (Intelligence) made several arrests at the end of July and beginning of August in Sanandaj (2 brothers), Bokan (4 activists including two women), Divandareh (2 people) and Mahabad (3 people). On 2 August, according to several sources (the Kurdpa agency, HRANA, CDHRI...) at least six inhabitants of Oshnavieh or nearby villages were arrested and held incommunicado.
On the 4th, a death row inmate from Urmia, condemned for a drug case, was put in solitary confinement in preparation for his execution (HRANA). According to the statistics of Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA), in 2020 Iran carried out 236 executions and passed 95 death sentences, but HRA says that figures are really higher, as 72% of the executions are not announced... On the 5th, three prisoners of Urmia were sentenced to 3 more months in prison and 50 lashes for “disturbing prison order” following a complaint by the prison director: they had protested against the beating of another prisoner, Nayeb Hajizadeh, by fellow inmates accused of violent crimes. On the same day, a resident of Bokan was arrested without a judicial warrant by the Etelaat, whose officers beat him during his arrest. On the 9th and 10th, three other citizens of Bokan were also arrested. All these people were held incommunicado and the charges against them were not indicated.
The following week, many activists were arrested in Kurdistan: 2 people in Sanandaj, 1 in Paveh, 2 in Divandarreh and 3 in Piranshahr. The KMMK also reported that two Kurdish political prisoners were denied medical treatment. On the 16th, the Security of the pasdaran arrested at a checkpoint without a judicial warrant a resident of Oshnavieh who was held incommunicado. No charges were announced against him. The next day, another Kurd was arrested in Piranshahr under the same illegal conditions. On the 17th, a Kurdish teacher from Divandarreh, Charo Ahmadi, was arrested during a search of her home, before being released the next day.
On 24 August, three more kolbars were injured in the mountains. By this date, the Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) counted at least a hundred arrests in Iranian Kurdistan since July 1st. However, between the 24th and the end of the month, the Etelaat made at least ten more arrests...
In the last week of August, hundreds of signatories sent a letter to the Supreme Leader demanding the annulment of Haider Qurbani’s death sentence, handed down in 2020 on the basis of confessions obtained through torture. A campaign was also launched by the Kurds on social networks. Qurbani is accused of “armed rebellion against the state”.
Finally, Iran continues its policy of blackmailing Western countries by arresting and sentencing their nationals or dual nationals on its territory. On the 4th, the 60-year-old German-Iranian architect Nahid Taghavi was sentenced to 10 years and 8 months in prison after 10 months of preventive detention in Tehran. Along with another detainee, Mehran Raouf, she was convicted of “membership of an illegal organisation” and “propaganda against the regime”. Her daughter announced that her health had deteriorated, as she contracted COVID in detention.
Another practice of the Islamic Republic, unfortunately well known to the Kurds, is the assassination of its opponents abroad. In early August, a court in Erbil (Iraqi Kurdistan), handed down three death sentences and two five-year prison terms for the murder of Qadir Qadiri, a senior commander of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI). Qadiri had been found dead in March 2018 near the village of Hartal, Suleimaniyeh, hit by 21 bullets. His lawyers asked the court to change the charge from “homicide” to “terrorist act” (WKI). On 4 July, Zoleykha Nasseri, the widow of Iranian Kurdish opposition figure Behrouz Rahimi, who was shot dead in Iraqi Kurdistan on 14 July, said she feared for her life and called on the Kurdistan government to do what was necessary to find her husband’s killers and put an end to the murders of Iranian opposition figures on its territory. According to the Washington-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran, most of the victims of Tehran’s killers were murdered in neighboring countries, notably in Iraqi Kurdistan, where in the 1990s 329 people were killed (Middle East Eye). On the 7th, the KDP-Iran (a split of the KDPI) accused Iran of having organised the assassination in Iraqi Kurdistan of one of the members of its central committee, Moussa Babakhani. Kidnapped on the 5th by two terrorists, Babakhani was found dead with marks of torture in a room of the Guli Sulaymani hotel in Erbil (AFP). Iran has struck the PDKI in Iraqi Kurdistan several times before, including with missile strikes in September 2018 that killed 15 people in its headquarters, and again in July 2019.
When opponents are beyond the reach of direct attack, as in the case of the founder of the Hengaw website, Arsalan Yarahmadi, the Islamic Republic’s agents target his relatives. On the 8th, security officers summoned and threatened Yarahmadi’s father and brother, and even forced the latter to call him. The officers then told Yarahmadi over the phone that he should publish on his website the information that Babakhani had been killed because of a “matter of honour” and not by Iranian agents. Already last July, two sisters of a Kurdish activist and journalist living in Norway had been summoned by the Etelaat in Oshnavieh and interrogated and tortured for eight hours... (Iran News Wire)
On the 10th, Ali Shimkani, the main Iranian national security official, took advantage of an official visit to Baghdad to demand that Iraq expel Kurdish opposition groups: “We call on the Iraqi government to take more serious measures to expel these groups from Iraqi Kurdistan so that Iran does not have to take preventive measures against [.. these armed terrorists”, he said after a meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussayn (Reuters).
Let us end this dark chronicle on a note of hope for justice. In Stockholm, a trial began on 10 August that will last until April 2022 and could help bring to light the massacres committed in the 1980s under the authority of the new president Raisi. It is that of Hamid Noury, former deputy head of a prison where many detainees were executed in 1988... Lured to Sweden by Iranians in exile, he was arrested on arrival and charged with war crimes, murder and torture. The exiles hope that this is the beginning of the end of impunity for their torturers (Libération).
Death of Professor Kinyaz Mîrzoyev
We were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Professor Kinyaz Mîrzoyev, a great figure of the Kurds of Central Asia and a long-standing partner of the Kurdish Institute, who died on August 8 in Alma Ata, Kazakhstan, from Covid 19 at the age of 74.
Born in 1947 in the village of Zengibasar in Soviet Armenia, he studied in Yerevan before obtaining a state doctorate in philology at the University of Leningrad / St. Petersburg. A specialist in Kurdish-Azeri literary relations, he was until 1990 director of the Department of Near Eastern Languages at the University of Yerevan.
In the 1990s, during the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, following the threats and exactions of Armenian extremists seeking to transform the territorial conflict into a religious confrontation between Christians and Muslims, whether Azeris or not, practically all the Kurds of the Muslim faith in Armenia were forced to leave, some to Russia, especially Krasnadar, and others to Kazakhstan where a well-integrated Kurdish community already existed. Very attached to Armenia where he had many friends among academics and intellectuals, Kinyaz Mîrzoyev had to resolve to leave in his turn after the assassination of the professor of medicine Saîdê Îbo, one of his best friends and an eminent figure in the Kurdish community of Armenia. Only the Kurds of the Yezidi faith were able to stay.
In Kazakhstan, thanks to the solidarity networks set up by the leader of the local Kurdish community, the academician Nadir Nadirov, a professor of petrochemistry and close to Kazakh President Nazarbaev, Kurdish refugees from Armenia have been well received and rapidly integrated. Kinyaz Mirzoev has been appointed vice-president of the University of Alma Ata. Highly appreciated by the Kazakh authorities, he became the official Turkish interpreter of President Nazarbaev, who previously needed a Russian-Turkish interpreter to communicate with his successive Turkish counterparts because, although they belong to the same family of Turkic languages, Turks and Kazakhs cannot understand each other any more than French and Romanians.
Besides his brilliant academic career, Kinyaz Mîrzoyev was also very involved in activities in favour of the defence of the Kurdish language and culture. Under his aegis, Kurdish language courses for children were organised in Alma Ata and Kurdish periodicals were published. He played a leading role in the organisation of a Federation of Kurds of the former USSR, of which he became president.
A partner of the Kurdish Institute since the 1990s, he has come to Paris several times. He also hosted in Alma Ata in June 2019, the 64th Kurmancî linguistic seminar of the Kurdish Institute. A patriot, he followed closely the political life of Kurdistan, where he visited as a delegation on the occasion of the self-determination referendum in September 2017 as well as during the ceremony of taking office of President Nechirvan Barzani.
His untimely death is painfully felt by the Kurds of the former USSR as well as among his many friends in Kurdistan and in the Kurdish diaspora.
Death of Mrs. Ferda Cemil Pasha
It is with great sadness that we announce the death of two prominent figures in the Kurdish world: Mrs. Ferda Cemil Pasha on 31 August in Istanbul and Professor Nadir Nadirov on 24 August in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Long-time friends and partners, both were known and appreciated in the Kurdish community in France and among the friends of the Kurdish Institute.
A figure of civil society and feminism in Kurdistan, Ferda Cemil Pacha was also a patron of the arts and a pioneering entrepreneur who contributed to the reconstruction of Kurdistan. It was her companies that built the buildings of the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of the Interior, the Police Academy and several hospitals in Erbil. A committed humanitarian activist, she was distinguished and rewarded by the United Nations High Commission for her numerous initiatives in welcoming Iranian, Afghan and later Iraqi Kurdish refugees in Turkey. In parallel to her professional activities, she has continued her aid and solidarity actions in favour of Syrian Kurdish and Yezidi refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan. As a close partner of the Institute, she was from 2007 to 2012 the director of the Erbil office of our Kurdish cultural channel KURD-1 and as such very much appreciated by local artists and intellectuals.
Her career reflects the vicissitudes of Kurdish history in the 20th century. She was born in 1951 in Damascus, in exile, into an aristocratic Kurdish family that played a leading role in the Kurdish national movement in the years 1910-1930. His great-grandfather, Cemil Pasha, was a high-ranking Ottoman dignitary who served as governor of Yemen. His children, educated in the best schools in Istanbul and Switzerland, became Kurdish nationalists militating, in the aftermath of the Great War, for the creation of an independent Kurdistan. After Mustafa Kemal’s victory, they had to leave their city of Diyarbakir and go into exile in Syria, then under the French mandate, where they continued their fight for the Kurdish cause.
All their property was confiscated. It was only in the early 1970s, during a brief period of liberalization of the Turkish regime, that some members of their family, including Ferda’s father, were allowed to return to Turkey. Ferda was able to finish high school in Diyarbakir before going on to study biology at Haceteppe University in Ankara, which she successfully completed in 1980. Her militant activity in favour of the Kurdish cause and feminism, started during her university years, continued under the military dictatorship in clandestinity, until her premature death at the age of 70, in a hospital in Istanbul.
A polyglot, fluent in Arabic, English and Persian as well as Kurdish and Turkish, generous and supportive, she was loved and respected in Kurdistan and among Turkish and Syrian democrats and beyond among the many Westerners, including French, passing through Erbil who crossed her path.
His funeral took place on September 2 in his beloved city of Diyarbakir in the main courtyard of the Cemil Pasha Palace, which was their residence and which his family donated to the Diyarbakir City Hall for use as a museum.
Death of Professor Nadir Nadirov
Professor Nadir Nadirov was the best known figure of the Kurds of the former USSR, symbolising, through his life, the destiny of his community.
Born on 6 January 1932 in the village of Qirqac in Nakhchivan, now part of Azerbaijan, to a family from Van who had fled Turkish persecution, he was deported at the age of five. His family, like tens of thousands of Muslim Kurdish families in the Caucasus, was deported by the Stalin regime to Central Asia. After some time of wandering, she settled in the Kazakh city of Djambul. Despite innumerable difficulties hindering the education of the deportees’ children, he managed to finish his secondary education. After the death of Stalin and the end of his regime of terror, the situation improved and this brilliant student was allowed to study chemistry at Moscow University. He went on to earn a doctorate in petrochemistry, and in 1970 became a university professor in Alma Ata (Almaty), Kazakhstan, later becoming an academician. His research, which has resulted in the publication of some 30 books and several hundred scientific articles, has earned him several Soviet and foreign awards. He is credited with eight technical innovations and over 200 patents. In 1993, he was appointed vice-president of the Academy of Sciences of Kazakhstan and called “Marshal of Gas and Oil” by the then Kazakh President Kunaev.
Alongside his scientific activities, Professor Nadirov, who as a young student of 23 years had been able to meet the legendary Kurdish leader in exile, Mustafa Barzani, in Moscow, pursued activities first of all in favour of the good integration of the Kurds in Kazakhstan, then in favour of the recognition of a status for the Kurdish diaspora in the USSR and in favour of the Kurdish national liberation struggle being taken into account by Soviet diplomacy.
In October 1989, he came to Paris at the head of a large Soviet delegation to take part in the international conference on the Kurds organised by the Kurdish Institute and the France-Libertés Foundation at the International Conference Centre with the participation of personalities from 32 countries, including an American senator, British and German parliamentarians. His testimony on the fate of the Kurds in the USSR, their deportation, their ordeal, was one of the outstanding events of this conference which contributed to the internationalisation of the Kurdish question.
On his return, he played a primordial role in the holding in Moscow, in July 1990, of a big conference, co-organised by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the CPSU and the Kurdish Institute of Paris. Nearly 1400 Kurdish delegates, coming from nine Soviet republics and about twenty political leaders and personalities from Kurdistan took part in this unprecedented event in Soviet history. The official objective was to define a status for the Kurds of the USSR. Nadir Nadirov and a majority of the delegates demanded the recognition of a cultural autonomy including linguistic rights such as the teaching of the Kurdish language in schools, broadcasts in Kurdish on the radio, etc. Other delegates also demanded the re-establishment of an autonomous Kurdistan in the territories of Latchine and Kelbajar situated between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh where from 1922 to 1929 a Red Kurdistan had existed. Advisers to President Gorbachev who were present at the Conference later received a delegation from the Conference chaired by Nadir Nadirov. They promised to study the various proposals of the Conference. But the collapse of the USSR a few months later took away all the plans.
The day after the Conference, the Soviet President’s foreign policy adviser, Yevgeny Primakov, who later became Prime Minister, had a long meeting with the Iraqi Kurdish leaders present in Moscow. According to observers, this contact had an important impact on Soviet policy during the Gulf War and especially during the massive exodus of Kurds that followed it. Contrary to their tradition, the Soviets did not veto the adoption of Security Council Resolution 688, proposed by France, authorising the creation of a non-fly zone, a protection zone in Iraqi Kurdistan, a zone which evolved into the present Kurdistan Region.
A national glory in Kazakhstan, Professor Nadirov was known and respected as a patriotic scholar in all regions of Kurdistan and in the Kurdish diaspora. His death at the age of 89 was widely publicised in Kazakhstan where former President Nazarbaev and his successor President Kassimov paid tribute to him. The local media, which gave wide coverage to the event, also reported proposals to name research institutions after him, as well as streets and squares in Almaty and in his childhood town of Djambul. In Kurdistan, President Nechirvan Barzani, his predecessor Massoud Barzani, the Prime Minister, as well as the leaders of the main Kurdish political parties and intellectuals issued messages saluting his memory, his work and his commitment to the Kurdish cause. The President of the Kurdish Institute and several of our colleagues took part in Kurdish television programmes paying tribute to Professor Nadirov who considered our Institute as “An embassy of Kurdistan and of all the Kurds in the heart of Europe”.
Nadir Nadirov was married to Mrs. Helima Amo, a Kurdish chemist who had a brilliant academic career. In addition to her professional publications, a few years ago she published a reference book on Kurdish cuisine. Their three children remain active in the cultural and social life of the Kurds of Central Asia.