The month of September was marked throughout Syria by intense activity by the Russian air force. Supporting Damascus in its recapture of new territories from the insurgents, it launched nearly 200 strikes on Idlib, targeting the Islamists in the “de-escalation zone”, and in the Syrian desert, in response to the deadly attacks of ISIS against the military and pro-regime militiamen: during the 13th alone, for example, the Russian air force carried out nearly 70 strikes against the Jihadists. From Idlib, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham retaliated by bombing the areas held by the regime. Moreover, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has accused the Russians of several massacres against the civilian population.
Throughout the country, and especially in the territories of the Autonomous Administration of North-East Syria (AANES), dominated by the PYD Kurds, tension has continued to rise between Russians and Turks. In Idlib, after three Turkish soldiers were killed and four others wounded, including by homemade bombs, Turkey reinforced its bases on the 13th by sending new military equipment. From the 23rd to the 26th, the Russian air force bombed the Turkish-controlled region of Afrin. On the 26th, near Tall Tamr (Hasakeh), the Turkish army fired missiles at a Russian helicopter, which it was unable to shoot down. On the same day, and for the first time in this area, Damascus forces fired several rockets at Turkish positions. The next day, however, the Russians and Turks conducted their 4th joint patrol near Kobane... while the Russians reinforced their position near Tall Tamr. Finally, in the last week of the month, the Russian air force bombed Afrin again, killing four and wounding a dozen Islamist militiamen of Al-Hamza (SOHR). On the 26th, Kurdish media reported firing on Russian planes by pro-Turkish mercenaries near Tall Tamr (WKI).
Paradoxically, Turks and Russians conducted seven joint patrols in September: five around Kobane, one in Qamishli and one in Hasakeh. The last one did not go far, as the inhabitants of the villages through which it passed successfully opposed it, despite attempts by Russian helicopters to disperse them with gas and sound grenades.
At the same time, mercenaries and Ankara forces continued their daily harassment against the AANES, firing artillery or using drone strikes, including in Manbij, where a SDF fighter was killed on the 4th. After a Turkish soldier was killed and four others wounded at their base in Yashili, Ankara forces fired more than 300 rockets at villages in the area, forcing several families to flee. On the 12th, a Turkish drone joined the artillery and mortars. Turkish fire also injured two regime soldiers near Girê Spî (WKI). On the 16th and 17th, the pro-Turkish mercenaries, powerfully supported by Turkish artillery, continued their attempts to advance into the area, but were repelled by the Manbij Military Council fighters. The AANES capital, Raqqa, was also targeted. On the 15th, a civilian was wounded by a sniper in a village near the city. On the 17th, the SDF announced that Turkish artillery had caused the death of four workers, including one aged only 18, employed in digging tunnels north of Raqqa in Ain Issa (SOHR). The Christian town of Tall Tamr was also bombed. At the end of September, the Manbij Military Council counted it had received 723 rockets over the month (WKI).
At the same time, the pro-Turkish mercenaries have continued their abuses in the areas they occupy on behalf of Ankara. Under the guise of “arrests” for links to the former administration, they continue their kidnappings for ransom, their theft of the property of the displaced – and their factional infighting for the spoils of the loot. In Afrin, the SOHR reported on the 4th that the local council installed by the occupiers had decided to create 380 housing units on land belonging to Yezidis to accommodate displaced Islamists and their families. The Sultan Murad Division, made up of Turkmen militiamen under the orders of Ankara, has taken over dozens of shops and houses belonging to displaced Kurdish inhabitants. Some leaders of factions of the so-called “Syrian National Army” also take advantage of the terror they inspire in the displaced villagers to buy their land via intermediaries at a low price... In some villages, such as Barrad, the Al-Sham Corps, close to the Turkish secret services, has imposed a new “law” on the peasants, according to which they must pay a tax to the Islamist faction controlling their village in order to be allowed to harvest their fields! Near the town of Jindires, members of the Islamist militia Ahrar al-Sharqiya set fire to the outskirts of a forest, presumably in preparation for the felling and sale of trees. On the 8th, members of another pro-Turkish militia, Jabhah al-Shamiyah, arrested a villager who was demanding his house back. The next day near Raqqah, members of Ahrar al-Sham arrested and tortured a young man who had criticized them on social media (SOHR).
On the 14th, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria released its report on the period July 2020-June 2021. It concludes, among other things: “There are [...] reasonable grounds to believe that elements of the Syrian National Army have committed acts of torture, cruel treatment and outrages upon personal dignity, including rape and other forms of sexual violence, which amount to war crimes”. It concludes that Ankara, as the occupying power, is responsible.
Turkey does not pay much attention to such reports without judiciary consequences and the abuses of its militias continued unabated. On the 20th, a civilian died in detention in Serê Kaniyê (Ras al-Ain) as a result of torture by members of Suqur al-Shama. The SOHR, which reported the information, noted that “violence and torture are dramatically intensifying in the prisons of the Turkish-backed factions”. In the Bulbul district of Afrin, the Sultan al-Murad militia forcibly confiscated the homes of 65 civilians at gunpoint. Other mercenaries from the “al-Mu’tassim Division” attacked vehicles of local humanitarian organizations refusing to comply with their directives. On the 21st, the SOHR reported that since the beginning of August, more than 100 civilians had been arbitrarily arrested in Afrin by pro-Turkish factions for ransom.
Finally, as the olive harvest period approaches, several “Syrian National Army” factions have, as they have every year since 2018, undertaken to loot olive groves... Just one example, on the 20th in the village of Koutanly near Bulbul, the Sultan Murad faction cut down 50 olive trees around its HQ to sell them as firewood, before cutting down 100 almond and olive trees in the same village (SOHR).
On the Turkish-Syrian border, Turkish gendarmes continue their exactions against Syrian civilians trying to flee the war, to the point that the SOHR, which estimates that they have shot dead up to 25 civilians since January, including a woman and six children, regularly publishes reports entitled “The crimes of the Turkish Jandarma (gendarmes)”. Among other things, it reports that on 11 January, a young man from Amuda trying to enter Turkey near Tirbe Spi was beaten up and then thrown over the border wall with a broken elbow. On the 15th, four young men were severely beaten near Darbasiyah. Another civilian died on the 20th from bullet wounds inflicted by the jandarma, as did another young civilian from Deraa on the 24th in Hatay hospital... According to SOHR statistics, as of September 24, they had killed 487 civilians since the beginning of the Syrian revolution, including 45 women and children. On the 29th, SOHR learned from its informants that the jandarma had dumped on the Syrian side near Hasakeh the body of a child bearing signs of torture...
These crimes add to the insecurity of displaced Syrians, who are already frequent victims of abuses by the regime’s forces when they try to return to their country. Amnesty International denounced these in a report on the 7th, mentioning arbitrary detentions, torture, rapes, disappearances... Amnesty has counted at least 17 disappearances of these returnees, sometimes summoned by the regime’s police up to 18 months after their return. “Tell people not to return to Syria. Don’t go back. I came back and I regret it. Reconciliation is a huge lie”, [testifies a young woman], who was raped on her return from Turkey in 2017 and has not seen her son since, a victim of enforced disappearance (Le Monde).
ISIS jihadists have also been very active this month, further increasing the intensity of their campaign of assassinations of SDF or coalition fighters and local AANES officials, whose deaths number in the hundreds. As early as 2 September, a SDF convoy heading to the Koniko oil field was hit by an IED. Attacks killed or wounded civilians in Deir Ezzor, and the day after US forces stationed in Al-Shaddadi (Hasakeh) launched an anti-ISIS operation on the 8th, two rockets targeted the base, without causing any casualties. On the same day, the start of a mutiny by ISIS detainees in Al-Senaa’ah prison (Hasakeh) led to an alert and the overflight of the prison by coalition helicopters. On the 12th, the coalition transported new military equipment in a convoy from neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan for the second time since the beginning of the month, and regularly launched clean-up operations. On the 22nd and 23rd, the SDF, supported by helicopters, arrested 12 suspects in Deir Ezzor province for “relations with the Syrian National Army and ISIS cells” and confiscated weapons, documents and communication equipment.
At the same time, the situation remains unmanageable in Al-Hol camp, where exactions and killings by members of ISIS continue daily. The AANES is still trying to calm things down by progressively releasing families after investigations. Thus, 92 Syrian families were released in mid-September after guarantees from tribal leaders. Since January, 644 families have been able to leave the camp...
Internally, the AANES has been confronted with several student protests demanding a return to the Damascus curriculum, especially in Kobane. They fear that their diplomas will not be recognized internationally. The authorities agreed to teach the Syrian curriculum privately, but later the Asayish (Kurdish Security) reneged on this concession, leading to new protests (SOHR).
On the other hand, violence broke out between supporters of the administration and the opposition Kurdish National Council (ENKS). On 5 August, unknown persons attacked the ENKS office in Darbasiyah, throwing a grenade which did not cause any casualties, while members of Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah (“Young Revolutionaries”) threw stones at the premises of the Iraqi Kurdistan channel Rûdaw and the PYD. On 24 August, individuals had already tried to set fire to the ENKS office in Amuda. On the 19th, the AANES increased the price of bread by decree, which provoked widespread popular discontent. On the 25th, ENKS organized a series of demonstrations against this increase as well as the increase in fuel prices, and arbitrary arrests by military formations. They were held in Qamishli, Hasakeh, Tall Tamr, Darbasiyah, Amuda, and Derik... In Qamishli, in front of the UN offices, the demonstration degenerated into clashes with the administration’s supporters. At the end of the month, attacks hit several premises, including those of the Rûdaw channel and the PDK in Qamishli, and those of the Change Party in Hasakeh, the perpetrators of which have not been identified.
Finally, on 29 June, the authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan ended the detention of the AANES representative in Erbil. Jihad Hassan (pseudonym) had been arrested on 10 June together with two members of the PYD’s External Relations Committee. They were released on June 29, but Hassan remained in detention for more than 15 weeks (SOHR).
The economic deterioration continues in Turkey. According to TurkStat, annual inflation reached 19.25% in August, its highest rate in two years, and according to official statistics, youth unemployment is now around 26%. Revealing the gravity of the situation are the recent protests by students driven to the streets by rising rents, particularly in Istanbul. That there are nearly eight million of them for only 719,000 places in university residences has not prevented Mr. Erdoğan from opting as usual for a repressive line: “Turkey is the country with the largest number of public university beds and residences. Those who are sleeping in parks, gardens and on benches in recent days have nothing to do with students [...]. These so-called students are just a new version of those who were at Gezi” (Le Monde).
Unable straighten the economy out, the AKP-MHP government is witnessing its popularity deteriorate along with it. And all the corruption scandals affecting a large number of municipal administrators (kayyım) appointed by Ankara to replace dismissed elected Kurdish mayors, recently revealed by the “pro-Kurdish” HDP party, still tarnish its image! In addition, far from being under control, the epidemic of COVID, after a slight drop at the end of August, has accelerated again in the middle of the month: 23% from the 17th to the 23rd, with 31,200 contaminations (France-24). The number of deaths has never fallen below 200 daily, and on the 29th, the Minister of Health indicated that after more than a year of closure, the reopening of schools on the 3rd had caused a surge in cases among minors, who now constitute a quarter of the 400,000 contaminated, as opposed to 10% previously... (Bianet)
To divert the attention of citizens, the government uses a tried and tested method: scapegoats. Syrian migrants (3.7 million) are accused of stealing the work of Turks. Moreover, Turkey still refuses to transmit data about them to the UNHCR... (Bianet) The opposition is sadly following the power’s path: in August, Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu, the leader of the CHP (Kemalist), promised, if he won the June 2023 elections, to “send the Syrians back home”... (Le Monde)
Politically, it is the Kurds, characterised as an internal enemy, who are the designated scapegoats. The HDP, which represents them on the political scene, is criminalized as a terrorist and legally threatened with closure. The 843-page indictment filed by the AKP and the MHP calls for the freezing of its assets and the exclusion of 451 of its cadres from political life. In this context, racist anti-Kurdish speeches and attacks are becoming widespread. Those who try to report on them become targets of investigation: on the 2nd, Öznur Değer, a JinNews journalist who had covered the massacre of seven members of a Kurdish family in Konya on 30 July, was charged with “inciting hatred”. On 22 July, another attack targeted eight Kurdish farm workers in Düzce, where a threatening mob forced them to leave the town. Refusing to intervene “as long as nothing happened”, the police finally began to search... the victims. The latter preferred to return to Mardin. Kurdish prisoners are also victims of this systemic racism. On the 28th, putting a parliamentary question to the Minister of Justice on the violations of prisoners’ rights, HDP MP Gülüstan Kılıç-Koçyiğit cited the case of a prisoner in Kırıkkale punished for using the Kurdish word “friend” (heval), which has been considered by the prison administration to be an “organizational communication word”...
On the other hand, Mr. Erdoğan denies the existence of any Kurdish problem in the country. In late September, CHP leader Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu took him to task by stating in a documentary that there is indeed a Kurdish issue in Turkey “that the political authority has not been able to resolve for 35-40 years”. He then criticized the AKP leader for having chosen to engage between 2012 and 2015 in a “peace process” with the PKK, an illegal party, rather than entrusting the issue to parliament, the natural place for such a discussion, which should have been conducted with the HDP, a legitimate interlocutor. Obviously, as long as he is locked into the alliance with the fiercely anti-Kurdish far-right MHP, Mr. Erdoğan cannot follow such a path... But a return to the forefront of the delicate Kurdish issue might not be so negative for the Turkish president, who is always on the lookout for a way to split the opposition... (Al-Monitor)
On the 2nd, the Constitutional Court granted the HDP’s request for an additional 30 days to prepare its defence, while the first hearing of the case was due to be held on the 7th. On the other hand, the so-called “Kobanê trial”, which targets 108 HDP members on charges of supporting the Kurdish resistance against ISIS, resumed on the 20th in Ankara. At the first hearing, the authorities barred access to observers and journalists. The court rejected requests from several defendants for postponement on health grounds.
Meanwhile, the repression of the HDP’s political activities continues. A “peace rally” organised in Istanbul for the World Peace Day was dispersed by the police, who arrested more than 30 participants. On the 9th, a new hearing was held in Diyarbakir for the trial of one of the founders of the “Rosa” Women’s Association, Ayla Akat Ata, accused of “propaganda for a terrorist organisation”. Also in Diyarbakir, on the 13th, the trial hearing of former Nusaybin mayor Ayşe Gökkan went totally off the rails. Complaining in Kurdish that she had been imprisoned for 7 months without full access to the indictment, as the prison administration had refused to give her the full indictment, the defendant asked for a delay to learn about the charges. When her lawyer tried to translate her request for fear that her client had not been properly understood, the judge forbade her to speak without his permission, before having her removed by the police. The court then denied the defendant’s request. Diyarbakir Bar Association officials who came to the hearing after this incident were similarly interrupted and then also expelled, this time with excessive violence and insults. The sister of the defendant lost consciousness and had to be taken to hospital. As a result of the violence, Gökkan’s lawyer, Muharrem Şahin, refused to present her defence and requested an adjournment of the hearing. This was rejected, and a criminal complaint was filed against the Diyarbakir Bar Association. The trial was postponed to October 20. In a statement made the courthouse, Diyarbakır Bar President Nahit Eren condemned the behaviour of the court president (Bianet).
On the 20th, the governor of Mardin banned all demonstrations in the province for 15 days, citing the commemoration planned for that day at the tomb of Kurdish intellectual Musa Anter in the village of Sitlîlê. Anter was shot dead by a JITEM (Turkish Gendarmerie Intelligence Service) squad near Diyarbakir on September 20, 1992. The communiqué of the governor’s office justified the ban by accusing the organizers of the ceremony of belonging to the PKK and by invoking the coronavirus – which yet does not prevent the ubiquitous Turkish President and his supporters from holding public meetings and rallies all over the country…
On the 27th, Kurdish writer and lawyer Nurcan Kaya was convicted of “propaganda for an illegal organization” and given a one-year and three-month suspended sentence for several tweets sent in 2014 during the siege of Kobanê by ISIS jihadists. The suspended sentence is clearly a way of intimidating her into silence during her five years of probation, and Kaya has announced her intention to appeal and, if necessary, go all the way to the Constitutional Court.
In the Kurdish provinces, the violence of the military acting as an occupying army is ongoing. On the 3rd, a seven-year-old child riding his bicycle down a street died after being hit by an armoured vehicle in İdil (Şırnak). The officer driving the vehicle was questioned three days later… and released. In 10 years, 20 children lost their lives in this way and 14 others were injured, but a 2017 incident where an 85-year-old woman died in Lice is also particularly remembered.
Placed in a difficult situation by the constant harassment to which it is subjected and the arrest of thousands of its members and elected officials, the HDP nevertheless continues its struggle for democracy. On the 13th, its ex-chairman, who has been in prison for five years, Selahattin Demirtaş, published an op-ed on the news website T24 in which he called on all opposition components to cooperate in the upcoming elections to prevent the AKP from making its “authoritarian rule permanent”. For Demirtaş, a new victory for the currently ruling alliance could drag Turkey into an authoritarian system for decades. Conversely, a victory for the opposition would open up the possibility of solving problems that the Republic of Turkey has been experiencing since its founding: “I believe that no election in our history has simultaneously carried so many serious dangers and opportunities...”, Demirtaş writes. While neither the AKP-MHP alliance nor the CHP and the “Good Party” (IYI) can claim to win alone, no alliance is yet emerging in the opposition. In this configuration, the HDP’s votes could prove crucial in deciding the country’s future.
After Kiliçdaroğlu’s statements about the possibility of resolving the Kurdish issue in parliament with the HDP as an interlocutor, Demirtaş responded on the 21st with a message sent through his lawyers: “The HDP I know aspires to resolve all of Turkey’s problems, including the Kurdish issue; it is fully a political player and – of course – an interlocutor. The place where [this issue] can be solved is naturally the Turkish Grand National Assembly”.
On the 27th, the HDP issued a political statement entitled “Let’s win together; call for justice, democracy and peace” (https://hdp.org.tr/en/let-us-win-together-we-call-for-justice-democracy-and-peace/15763/). Stating its opposition to the presidential system which “aims to make arbitrariness and tyranny institutionalized and permanent”, the HDP calls for a “democratic transformation” that can only be achieved through “negotiations and consensus building on principles and methods”. The party’s political objectives are set out in the titles of eleven sections: 1- A strong democracy, with more delegation to local governments, 2- An impartial and independent judiciary, with respect for the decisions of international institutions, including the European Court of Human Rights, 3- The will of the people and not the rule of [appointed] “administrators”, 4- A democratic settlement of the Kurdish question, necessary for a real democratization, and which should start with the opening of a dialogue in the parliament, 5- A peaceful foreign policy, with an end to military adventures, 6- Freedom and equality for women, 7- A fair economy, with measures to combat the precariousness caused by the economic crisis, 8- Recruitment on the basis of merit in the public administration, with an end to hiring on the basis of political affiliation and the reinstatement of the civil servants dismissed by decree, 9- Respect for nature, with the declaration of a state of climate emergency and the cancellation of environmentally harmful mega-projects, such as Kanal Istanbul, 10- Freedom for youth, with respect for their way of life, improvement of the education system and economic support, and finally 11- A democratic constitution: “civil, liberal [...], a social contract in the true sense of the word”, which “should be based on the equality of citizens with respect for different cultures, identities, beliefs and mother tongues, lifestyles and a secular way of life”.
These 11 points constitute a basis for discussions conditioning the HDP’s support for the opposition to defeat Erdoğan in June 2023. Already, speaking on the 26th in Van’s Musa Anter Park on the occasion of World Peace Day, HDP co-chair Pervin Buldan had said: “Neither the Kurdish issue nor the peace issue are the problem of the HDP alone. They should concern everyone with a conscience. The failure to solve the Kurdish issue leads to the deterioration of the situation not only of the Kurds but also of 83 million people. That is why it is now time to call for peace and [...] a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish issue”.
Kurdistan seems to be more and more in the sights of the pro-Iranian factions in Iraq. On the evening of 11 September (the anniversary of the 2001 attacks...), an attack using two armed drones targeted the international airport of Erbil, where American troops are stationed. This is the sixth attack on Erbil in a year. The Kurdish anti-terrorist force confirmed that the two explosions caused no casualties. Already in July, a previous attack on Erbil had used drones, more able to evade the C-RAM defence batteries with which the U.S. military defends its cantonments. But both drones were shot down before causing any damage. Like Washington, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) condemned the attack. Several Kurdish officials also blamed the lack of cooperation between peshmerga and Iraqi forces in the “disputed territories”, which they said facilitated such attacks, and called for the implementation of several previous agreements designed to facilitate joint operations (WKI).
As if to echo this event, on the 22nd, KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani spoke at the site of the future US Consulate in Erbil. This was the site of the ceremony to mark the tenth anniversary of the opening of the first US consulate in the region, which also celebrated the completion of the shell of the new building. Masrour Barzani recalled the “deep ties”, the “strong partnership” and the “long relationship of friendship” between the Kurdistan Region and the United States, as well as the joint defeat inflicted on the jihadist enemy: “We have been at the forefront of the fight to prevent ISIS from reaching Europe and beyond, and we have done so as much to protect American values as to protect ourselves”, the Kurdish Prime minister said, before recalling that the fight against ISIS was far from over (Kurdistan-24). In response, the American consul Robert Palladino, recalling that the construction of the new building would be completed by the end of 2022, and that the diplomatic staff would move in in January 2023, added: “[With 52,000 square meters...] the U.S. Consulate General in Erbil will be the largest consulate in the world. [...] The reason [...] is that the relationship between the United States and the Kurdistan Region needs space to grow. The new consulate will be a tangible sign – in concrete, steel and reinforced glass – of the United States’ long-term commitment to the government and people of the Kurdistan Region” (WKI).
The fight against ISIS is indeed far from over. The organization still poses a significant security risk, as evidenced by the dismantling in Erbil earlier this month of a cell of five members, including two minors: they were planning to smuggle explosives into the city to target foreigners and busy areas such as markets (WKI). But it is mainly in and from the disputed territories that the jihadist organization is causing trouble. As a sign of its resurgence, in the province of Kirkuk, while it previously preferred to commit attacks using IEDs, it no longer hesitates to confront the Iraqi security forces directly... On the 4th, its members organised an ambush in Rashad, in the south of Kirkuk, in which 13 Iraqi policemen were killed, at least 5 others wounded, and three vehicles destroyed. The next day, three Iraqi soldiers were killed and another wounded in another attack on a military checkpoint southeast of Mosul. On the 11th, a police officer and three civilians were killed near Makhmur (WKI). On the 21st, another attack took place near Rashad, as well as in Hawija. On the 24th, a cell of three jihadists was dismantled in Hawija, and the next day two terrorists were ambushed and killed in Rashad. Faced with this upsurge, Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Qadhimi, like the head of the Iraqi National Security Agency, Abdul Ghani al-Asadi, did not hesitate to blame the “negligence” of the security forces. In the province of Kirkuk, the Iraqi federal police is due to be replaced by the 8th division of the Iraqi army...
Jihadists also launched attacks in other disputed provinces. In Khanaqin, on the Iranian border, they attacked a military checkpoint on the 7th, killing two soldiers and injuring at least four; on the 14th, another attack killed two and injured four. In Tuz Khurmatu, a sniper attack killed one Shiite militia member and wounded two others on the 4th. On the 26th, the Iraqi command announced that an air strike on the Hamrin Mountains had neutralized four jihadists. In Makhmur, an area where the Qara Chokh Mountains have become a sanctuary for ISIS, attacks have become a daily occurrence. On the 11th, jihadists killed four civilians and wounded eight Shiite militiamen. On the 14th, Security announced the neutralization of three terrorists near the village of Kashaf. According to an appeal launched at the end of the month by local activists, 90% of the more than 40 Kurdish villages in the area had been evacuated because of the attacks. At the end of the month, the Iraqi military announced that it would soon launch a new anti-ISIS operation on the Qara Chokh Mountains...
On the 16th, a small peshmerga contingent conducted a reconnaissance in the disputed areas between Erbil and Kirkuk. Erbil and Baghdad are to form three joint brigades of peshmerga and Iraqi military personnel and deploy them to the peri-urban areas of the disputed territories where ISIS is active. But on the 21st, their deployment was delayed until after the parliamentary elections, scheduled for 10 October. On the 9th, the Turkmen Front, supported by Turkey, and the Arab Coalition had raised the spectre of the “return of the peshmerga” at a press conference, even opposing any form of security cooperation between them and the Iraqi army... On the 23rd, the province’s acting governor, Rakan al-Jabouri, said the government planned to arm Arab tribes to help in the fight against ISIS, adding that the Prime minister had formed a committee to investigate security problems in the province...
For his part, peshmerga General Sirwan Barzani indicated in an interview given to the French daily Le Monde on the 17th that he feared a “jihadist upsurge” after the chaotic American withdrawal from Afghanistan, which has boosted the morale of the jihadists. He called for a continued US presence in Iraq: “For the balance of the region and of Iraqi Kurdistan, the forces of the international anti-EI coalition must remain. We need their technology. We don’t have drones to monitor jihadist movements or thermal cameras. The federal government in Baghdad does not allow us to acquire them. Keeping American troops is also important for the morale of the population, the displaced, and for Christians to feel safe. […] The Americans must continue to help us with advisers, military technology and intelligence. Also mentioning President Macron’s recent visit and promises of support, he called them important: “The French can do more in the field of special forces training, in sharing intelligence and monitoring the movements of the EI” (Le Monde).
As the date of the parliamentary elections draws closer, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has entered the campaign in Kirkuk, ending a four-year absence from the province, which it left after it was recaptured by Iraqi forces on October 16, 2017. The party’s candidate, Shakhwan Abdullah, indicated the KDP’s intention to reopen its headquarters in the provincial capital. According to the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), in Kirkuk 130 candidates are standing before the voters, including 56 independents, the rest as members of political parties. There are 13 seats to be filled, including one reserved for a Christian candidate. The Kurds are aiming to win at least half of the seats... In Khanaqin, where 7 Kurdish candidates are standing for election, one of the pro-Iranian militias controlling the province has prevented some of them from putting up their posters in Jalawla, using the security situation as an excuse and the fact that an election campaign would “cause tensions”. In Tuz Khurmatu, despite lengthy discussions, the Kurdish parties could not agree on a single candidate. There will be two candidates, which may cost the community a seat. On the 30th, PUK candidate Bakhtyar Hijran said that 600 Kurdish families displaced in October 2017 have still not returned; in some cases their homes have been burned down. In Sindjar (Shengal), where there are 25 Yezidi candidates, some of them supported by non-Yezidi parties, one seat, coveted by 7 of them, is reserved for this community. The other Yezidi candidates are seeking seats outside the quota. On 30 September, the mayor of Sindjar, Mahama Khalil, drew attention to the risk of an election boycott because of the lack of security and basic services in the district.
Sindjar is one of the areas hit hard by the Turkish air force since the beginning of its anti-PKK operations in Iraq. After two strikes in the first week of the month, while the Turkish Defence Ministry announced a “success” without giving details, several pro-PKK Yezidi media outlets accused Turkey of helping ISIS by attacking the Sinjar Resistance Units (YPŞ), thus allowing the jihadists to secure control of the Sindjar Heights (WKI).
In addition, on the 6th, a Turkish drone strike again hit the Makhmour refugee camp, killing several residents, including 5 members of the “Mahmour Self-Defense Forces”, a militia created after the camp’s brief invasion by ISIS in 2014. Many of the residents of the UN-recognized camp had to leave Turkey in the 1990s due to the Turkish state’s crackdown. The next day, the mayor of Amêdî (Dohouk) district, Warshen Salam, informed the Kurdish channel Rûdaw that Turkish artillery fire had wounded two peshmerga on-leave who had gone fishing near Shiladze.
Turkish operations and strikes have forced the evacuation of hundreds of villages and caused extensive destruction. According to an interview given to Hawar News Agency (ANHA) by Sarwar Qaradaghi, of the Kurdistan Nature NGO, since the beginning of its operations, the Turkish State has intentionally burned 35% of the forests in Iraqi Kurdistan, or 626,000 hectares of forest land, and also destroyed many cultivated fields. In the second week of the month, the Turkish air force carried out several strikes near the Iraqi-Turkish border, in the districts of Avashin and Darkar (Dohuk). In Suleimaniyeh, a PKK cadre was shot dead on the 17th and another PKK member was wounded on the 18th. The PKK accused Ankara of these assassinations.
On another note, the KRG welcomed the unanimous decision of the UN Security Council to extend the mandate of the UN team investigating crimes against humanity committed by ISIS, including the genocide of Yazidis, for one year. The extension, requested by the Iraqi government, was complemented by the appointment by UN Secretary General António Guterres of a German lawyer, Christian Ritscher, as the mission’s new special adviser.
The new Iranian President marked his arrival in power by launching new attacks against the Kurdish opposition parties that had been exiled in Iraqi Kurdistan for decades. On 9 September at 6 a.m., military planes, artillery and drones struck several establishments of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) in Sidakan and Choman (Erbil).
On the 6th, Brigadier-General Mohammad Pakpour, commander of the ground forces of the Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran), had warned the “terrorist groups affiliated with global arrogance” that Iran would not tolerate their presence and activities and reserved the right to strike them “decisively and overwhelmingly”. The warning also applied to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which was accused of tolerating these groups despite several warnings... and to the inhabitants, who were warned to stay away from potential targets (Tasnim). According to the testimony of Kawa Bahrami, commander of the PDKI peshmerga, six drones were involved in the attack, and in Galala, another commander counted four. Already in 2018, a dozen missiles fired at the headquarters of the PDKI and the PDK-I (two parties resulting from a split in the PDKI), in Koya, had killed 18 people and injured more than 50. This time, it seems that there was only material damage (four drones were shot down), but this action is a new warning for the future. In fact, on the 13th, taking advantage of a visit to Tehran by Iraqi Prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, reiterated the demand for the disarmament and expulsion of Iranian Kurdish opposition groups. On the 19th, bolstered by the American evacuation from Afghanistan, Iran renewed its threats through its Chief of Staff of the ground forces, the pasdaran commander Mohammad Bagheri, who threatened the “American and Zionist mercenaries” with annihilation...
The Centre for Cooperation of Political Parties of Iranian Kurdistan (CCIKP) condemned the attack, accusing Tehran of “fleeing from dozens of internal crises by creating another one”. Bagheri in his statement also called for the expulsion of those stationed at the Hareer (Erbil) airbase, saying, "We will not tolerate the presence of the Hareer base near our borders, where counter-revolutionary conspiracy meetings are held”.
Since 2015, when the PDKI announced resuming its armed struggle against the regime in Tehran, there have been regular clashes in Iranian Kurdistan between peshmerga and repressive forces. The KRG has pledged not to allow the Kurds of Iran settled on its territory to send fighters to the Iranian side, but the latter deny any sending of fighters across the border, claiming that the attacks are the work of their members already present in Iran (Rûdaw). In addition, the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights has reported clashes between the Pasdaran and the PKK near Oshnavieh.
The regime’s repressive forces also continue to kill Kurdish cross-border carriers on the Iran-Iraq or Iran-Turkey borders. Accused of smuggling, these kolbars, forced by the lack of resources to practice this dangerous profession, are shot on sight even though, generally unarmed, they present no danger. According to the Kurdistan Human Rights Association KMMK, at least 5 were killed and 36 injured in August. On 4 September, two were injured in Baneh (WKI), on 5 September, another was shot near Piranshahr (RojInfo). On the 11th, another was killed and 3 others injured near Baneh. The day before, two shepherds were injured in the same area. Another kolbar was killed near Marivan, and another was injured when he fell into a ravine near Nowsud. On the 16th, two more were killed, again near Baneh and in Sardasht.
A Turkish air strike killed two kolbars near Ummia on the 17th, bringing the number of kolbars killed by the Turkish military to 15 since January. On the 21st, however, a Turkish drone killed two more carriers in a strike on a group from the village of Kuran (Urmia), of which eight surviving members, some wounded, were taken prisoners. According to data compiled by the Kurdish Human Rights Network (KHRN) in its latest report, since January, at least 30 kolbars have died and 94 have been wounded by border guard fire or in accidents and illness. Also according to KHRN, in 2020, 147 were injured and 52 killed, 46 of whom were shot by Iranian or Turkish (Rûdaw) border guards. A recent UN report on the human rights situation in Iran counts more than 170 kolbars injured and 60 killed, including children... The UN is concerned about the “excessive use of force” against kolbars, estimated at “70,000, mainly from the Kurdish minority, [who] depend on their kolbar status for their livelihood, including women, many of whom are heads of households”.
In addition, arrests, convictions and executions continued in Iranian Kurdistan. In its report, the KHRN estimates that in August “the Iranian police, the Ministry of Intelligence and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC, [the pasdaran]) arrested at least 47 Kurdish civilians, activists and former political prisoners on political grounds. [...] Security forces also detained three children in Javanrud, Kermanshah province, who were released after several hours in detention”. There are also reports of the killing of three women in the towns of Marivan, Sanandaj and Saqqez. The KHRN also reported on the firing of shells by the pasdaran which caused forest fires on Mount Shaho. Finally, the KHRN condemned the assassination of KDP-I cadre Musa Babakhani, killed in a hotel in Erbil, and counted at least seven executions during the month of August (Rûdaw).
On September 3, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported that a UN panel of experts had called on Iran to overturn the death sentence of Kurdish political prisoner Heidar Ghorbani, charged with membership of the PDKI and “armed rebellion against the state” and agree to his retrial. His first trial was anything but impartial: arrested in October 2016, Ghorbani, deprived of a lawyer, had been tortured for months in the Sanandaj Etelaat (Intelligence) detention centre, until he signed a confession later broadcast on television. In August 2020, the Supreme Court upheld his conviction and refused his request for a retrial. According to his lawyer, Ghorbani’s executioners were never able to force him to confess to taking up arms... Due to the iniquitous trial conditions prevailing in Iran, experts have called for a moratorium on all executions.
In addition, security forces carried out a violent raid in Nagadeh on a family’s residence, resulting in gunshot wounds to two family members. Other arrests took place in Marivan and Oshnavieh. The following week, the pasdaran tortured to death the Kurdish activist Yasir Mangori in Ourmia (Hengaw): according to Mangori’s family, he had been arrested on 17 July, but his death was not announced to his relatives until the beginning of September, without specifying the circumstances. The body of the deceased was not returned to his family, who suspected that he had died under torture. Al-Monitor, which reported the news, cited an activists’ assessment that since 2017, at least 23 Kurdish prisoners, including 15 political detainees, have been tortured to death in Iran. In addition, eight Kurds have been arrested in Mahabad, two brothers in Sanandaj, and two other people in Baneh and Sardasht. In Mahabad, Said Fathi was sentenced to four years and two months in prison for “belonging to a Kurdish opposition party” (WKI).
A source close to the family of wrestler Navid Afkari Sangari told Voice of America (VOI) in Persian on 15 September that the prisoner, who had confessed to murder under torture, had been executed on 11 September without the family being informed and given a final opportunity to meet him, as is required by law. Sangari himself, who had called his family the day before, did not seem to know that he was going to be executed, having only mentioned a “transfer”. His lawyers had not been informed either. The manner of Sangari’s execution has not been disclosed.
On the 21st, the Washington Kurdish Institute reported that two Kurdish prisoners, Assad Ramin and Dawood Rahimi, had been tortured to death by Etelaat officers the previous week. They had been arrested on the 6th for “belonging to a Kurdish opposition party”. On the 26th, the Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN) reported that another 23-year-old Kurd, Amir Hossein Hatami, from Ilam, had suffered the same fate in Fashafoyeh prison in Tehran. He was severely beaten on the head at the start of his imprisonment two weeks ago for a minor offence and was transferred to hospital. The Hatami family’s request to visit him in hospital was refused by the prison administration. A small crowd of relatives gathered outside the prison to demand that the authorities bring those responsible for his death to justice. Fashafoyeh prison, located 32 km south of Tehran, is Iran’s largest detention centre with around 15,000 inmates.
On the 23rd, Kurdish activist Naska Afkhami from Sardasht was the target of a grenade attack on her family home, which caused only material damage. The motive seems to be the denunciation by the young woman of numerous men who had harassed women on social networks. Following the attack, dozens of activists, defying a government ban, gathered on the 25th to demonstrate in the city and demand that the authorities prosecute those suspected of sex crimes (WKI).
Finally, in the last week of the month, security forces made further arrests in Oshnavieh, Saqqez, Sanandaj and Divandareh. In addition, Hengaw reported that the authorities tortured to death an imprisoned Kurd, Shahin Nasri, for testifying about the torture of wrestler Navid Afkari Sangari. Meanwhile, the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Bijar sentenced Kurdish activist Danish Mawlawi to five years in prison for “propaganda against the regime” and “membership of a Kurdish opposition party” (WKI).
As for the COVID-19 epidemic, the official number of cases has reached 5 million as of September 1st, while the country has been facing a 5th wave for the past two months, with up to 500 daily deaths and just over 100,000 cumulative deaths. As of that date, more than 19 million people had received the first vaccine injection and some 9 million were fully vaccinated (Financial Tribune). Challenging the official figures as grossly underestimated by the government, the exiled opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which compiles its own figures from regional data, calculated a total of more than 397,000 deaths in 547 cities by the same date. By the 30th, the same source counted 444,200 deaths, or about 47,000 deaths in a month, an average of 1,560 each day...
Four Kurds were elected deputies during the German parliamentary elections of 26 September last, including three young women. They are :
Gökay AKBULUT, born on 16/10/1982 in the province of Kayseri (Caesarea) to an Alevi Kurdish family. Her family emigrated to Germany where she attended high school in Hamburg, then studied Political Science and Public Law at the University of Heidelberg. After obtaining her Master’s degree she was accepted for an internship at the UN headquarters in New York. She was elected for the first time to the Bundestag in 2017 on the list of the left-wing party Die Linke and was recently re-elected with flying colours.
Canan BAYRAM, born on 11/02/1966 in the Kurdish town of Malatya. She came to Germany at a very young age and completed her studies in Bonn. She became a lawyer in 2003 and practiced her profession in Berlin, which has a large Kurdish and Turkish community. Elected in 2006 as a member of the Berlin Parliament where she remained until her election to the Bundestag in 2017 on the Alliance 90/Green Party list. She was the only Green MP to be elected directly by voters rather than elected on the party list. She has just been re-elected to the Bundestag with flying colours, still on the Green list.
Sevim DAGDELEN, born on 4 September 1978 in Duisburg into a Kurdish family from Malatya, is a second-generation German-Kurdish woman who is very attached to her roots. After an eclectic education at the universities of Marburg, Adelaide (Australia) and Cologne, she became a journalist. In 2005 she was elected to the Bundestag on the list of the left-wing party Die Linke. Since then she has been re-elected regularly as a member of Die Linke.
Kassem TAHER SALEH, born in 1993, in Zakho, Iraqi Kurdistan. He came to Germany with his family at a very young age and grew up in Plauen, Saxony, where he completed his secondary education. Afterwards, he obtained a degree in civil engineering at the Technical University of Dresden. He joined the Die Grünen party in 2019 where he became co-spokesperson of the Federal Working Group on Migration, Integration and Anti-Discrimination. Presented by the Greens as the “best candidate of the Saxon Green Youth”, he was elected as a member of the Bundestag at the age of 28.
These four German-Kurdish MPs publicly claim their Kurdish origins and devote part of their time to defending the Kurdish people in their quest for freedom. They serve as a model for the integration and political commitment of new generations of the Kurdish diaspora.
Germany has the largest Kurdish community in Europe. In the absence of reliable statistics, the numerical importance of the Kurdish community is subject to evaluation. A study entitled Country Report on Ethnic Relations, Germany carried out in 2008 for the European Parliament gives the figure of 2,397,400 for the German population originating from Turkey. Of these, 700,000 had become German citizens. According to Turkish statistics, there will be around 900,000 of these in 2021 out of a population of around 2.7 million people from Turkey. Researchers consider that about one third of this population is Kurdish, i.e. about 900,000 Kurds from Turkey. In addition, there are more than 250,000 Syrian Kurds who arrived in 2015, as well as about 150,000 Iranian and Iraqi Kurds living in Germany. In total, there are currently 1.3 million Kurds in Germany, of whom almost 500,000 have become German citizens.
A Kurd becomes Minister of Education in Great Britain and two Kurds are elected to the Norwegian Parliament.
On the occasion of the recent reshuffle of the British Government, Nadhim ZAHAWI, of Iraqi Kurdish origin, who until then had been Minister for Vaccination, was promoted to Minister for Education in Great Britain. This is the first time that a Kurd has reached a position of this level of responsibility in a major European country. This appointment comes at a time when the President of Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani, is on an official visit to London at the invitation of the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.
The integration process of the Kurds is also well under way in other European countries. Thus, during the Norwegian legislative elections of 14th September, two Kurds were elected to the Norwegian Parliament, the Storting. They are Seher Aydar, a 32 year old Kurd from Turkey and Mani Hussaini, a 33 year old Kurd from Rojava.
Born in Turkey, Ayder grew up in Fredrikstad, Norway. She started her political career in the “Women’s Front”, Norway’s leading feminist organisation, and has led several projects, including a “Solidarity with Kurdistan” campaign, and is now a member of the Red Party.
Mani Hussaini, a member of the Labour Party, was born in Qamishli, Rojava. His family first sought asylum in Sweden and then moved to Norway in 2001. He has been the leader of the “Workers’ Youth League” since October 2014.
Dead Washer (French title La laveuse de mort), novel
The literary prize “Les Lorientales”, attributed in the French (Britanny) city of Lorient aims to promote knowledge and understanding of the Eastern world. Its 10th edition was awarded on the weekend of 4 and 5 September to the Kurdish-born writer Sara Omar for her first novel, Dead Washer, published in French by Actes Sud. First published in Danish in 2017 as Dødevaskeren, the novel tells the story of an unwanted little girl who is entrusted to her grandmother, a death washerwoman in charge of taking care of the bodies that no one wants to prepare or even bury, those of women murdered for reasons of “dishonor”. More than 100,000 copies of the book were sold in a country of less than six million inhabitants... (AFP)
Nine days in Raqqa, documentary.
Released on September 1st, this documentary selected for the 2020 Cannes Film Festival focuses on Leila Mustapha, a Kurdish engineer who became mayor of Raqqa after the defeat of ISIS, and shows the efforts to rebuild the city. This had been chosen by the jihadist organisation to become the capital of its “caliphate”. Since then, thousands of people have returned and according to the NGO Save the Children, the population is now estimated to be at least 270,000. But 36% of the city’s buildings are still destroyed. Leila Mustapha was awarded the World Mayor Jury Award 2021 on 14 October for her efforts to rebuild her war-torn city. Mustapha shares the 2021 Award with the mayors of Rotterdam (Netherlands) and Grigny (France) (Rûdaw).
Les filles du Kurdistan (Kurdistan Girls), comic book.
This comic book by Mylène Sauloy (author) and Clément Baloup (illustrator) presents the female fighters of the YPJ (Yekîneyên Parastina Jin, Women’s Protection Units), in Rojava. Beyond the military struggle, inspired by the documentary directed by Mylène Sauloy released in 2016, La Guerre des filles (The War of the Girls) crowned by several awards, the book focuses on the political dimension of the struggle of these women, who seek to re-found a society on feminist, democratic and ecological bases.
Rojnamegerîya kurdî ya dîjîtal eBook
With the support of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Botan International has just set up a “Media Education Office” in Diyarbakir for Kurdish journalists. Opened on 28 August, the new office will host training courses, seminars and workshops on Kurdish journalism (including podcasting workshops), and will also produce electronic books. Journalists will also find a recording studio and office space available free of charge. As Kurdish-language journalism training is impossible to organise officially in Turkey, the facility fills an important need.
Already, in the workshops held so far, journalists from various media such as the BBC, New York Times, Deutsche Welle (DW), Voice of America (VOA), Mezopotamya Agency, The Guardian, Reuters, Gazete Duvar and Bianet have shared their techniques and experiences in their mother tongue, Kurdish. Botan International has published the trainers’ notes in the form of a first e-book, entitled Rojnamegerîya kurdî ya dîjîtal (Kurdish Digital Journalism), which can be downloaded from this link: http://botaninternational.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/book.pdf. (link to the original Bianet article: https://bianet.org/english/media/239027-kurdish-digital-journalism-ebook-is-now-out)
New York Kurdish Film Festival.
The 5th New York Kurdish Film Festival, which took place in the Big Apple from 10 to 12 September, also focused on women. The programme presented mainly works by Kurds, but also Western perspectives on the life and struggle of the Kurds. But at the centre of the programme was the contribution of Kurdish women to the development of feminism, human rights, literature and an egalitarian society.
The city of Lyon inaugurated on September 21 a square named after Kurdish politician Hevrin Khalaf, who was assassinated at the age of 35 by members of the Turkish-backed Islamist faction Ahrar al-Sharqiya in North-Eastern Syria in October 2019. The square is located at a crossroads on Rue de Marseille in the heart of Lyon’s cosmopolitan 7th arrondissement. In addition to the ecologist mayor of this district, the deputy mayor of Lyon in charge of international relations, elected officials from Lyon and Grenoble, the president of the Kurdish Institute and many Kurds and Lyonnais attended this inauguration. The Lyon City Council had unanimously decided last July to give the name of Khalaf to this square. Suad Mustafa, Hevrin Khalaf’s mother, told Kurdistan 24 last year that she wanted those responsible for her daughter’s murder to be brought before an international tribunal: “A war crime has been committed against humanity, and the person who gave the orders to these militants must be held accountable before a fair court”, she said. The US State Department has put the Islamist faction on its list of terrorist organizations.