Turkey’s economic situation continues to deteriorate, with inflation at 19.89% at the beginning of November, according to the statistical institute TÜİK (https://data.tuik.gov.tr/Bulten/Index?p=The-Rates-of-Real-Profits-Created-by-Means-of-Financial-Investment-October-2021-37376&dil=2) – a figure that observers and the opposition say is largely underestimated. The HDP again called for an increase in the minimum wage, while handing over a 514-page report on poverty and working conditions in the country to the Labour Ministry. On the 30th, the Turkish lira collapsed to an all-time low of 13.47 to the dollar, after the Turkish president made further senseless statements opposing any interest rate hikes (CNBC). Since 2018, the Turkish currency has lost half its value. As for unemployment, it is (officially...) at 15%.
Despite this crisis, the growing rumours of an illness that would weaken him, and the polls that credit his party, the AKP, with only 30% of voting intentions for the 2023 elections, the Turkish president maintains his line. The economic crisis is the fault of “dark forces that want to weaken the country”. At home, he is trying to maintain the image of a leader who stands up to the West, a way of flattering his MHP allies – without hesitating to back down if the consequences appear too serious. Thus the ten Western ambassadors declared “personae non gratae” last month were not expelled in the end... (Le Figaro)
The government also continues to use scapegoats to divert attention from its own responsibilities. Syrian refugees, blamed for the economic crisis, are accused of stealing labour from Turkish citizens and living in luxury at their expense. After an altercation in Istanbul during which a resident complained that he could no longer afford bananas, while “Syrians buy kilos of them”, young refugees posted videos on social networks ridiculing these accusations: they showed themselves eating bananas while laughing. Calling the videos “provocative”, the government decided to expel 11 of them from Turkey. The HDP, one of the only parties to defend them, denounced the decision in a statement on 2 February: “Both the government and some opposition parties are complicit in the propaganda, which makes migrants look like the cause of the economic and social crisis. False propaganda against migrants who were employed in conditions of slavery, whose labor was exploited, who did not even have life guarantees, paves the way for new lynching attacks”.
The government is trying to muzzle all dissenting voices. Complaining about the economic situation on social networks can now lead to prison... Journalists are particularly targeted, but also members of the academic community, whether students or teachers. Le Monde gives the example of Can Candan, a documentary filmmaker and teacher at Boğaziçi University for 14 years, who on 11 October was refused entry to the campus by order of the rector appointed by Mr Erdoğan. Candan had been fired on July 16 for “insulting his superiors and the university administration by sharing content aimed at causing personal humiliation”. In fact, he was accused of posting content denouncing the government’s takeover of the university. Candan continued to visit the campus until he was prevented from doing so. The university, where 6,000 students have been expelled by simple decree and the LGBT club closed, continues to struggle. Every week, about 100 teachers gather under the rector’s windows with their backs turned in protest, and students run a YouTube channel. On 4 November, the rector decided to close the university’s publishing house: better to prevent any academic publication than to allow critical content to be published...
The other scapegoats of the government remain the Kurds. Although the Kurdish language is no longer officially banned in Turkey, it is de facto banned because the authorities use all possible means to prevent its teaching and use. Similarly, the “K-word”, “Kurdistan”, remains banned and dangerous to pronounce. At the end of October, a shopkeeper from Siirt, Cemil Taşkesen, had dared to declare to the candidate of the far-right İYİ party Meral Aksener: “This place where you are standing is Kurdistan”. He had been arrested on 29 October. He was finally released after protests and a campaign of support from many pro-Kurdish organisations, including the HDP, on social media. On the 6th, a researcher from Elaziğ University, Hifzullah Kutum, was arrested after being suspended by his university for a Tweeter post containing the word “Kurdistan”. His post wished a happy birthday to the “September Revolution” (in Iraqi Kurdistan), accompanied by a picture of Mustafa Barzani and ended with “Bijî Kurdistan” (Long live Kurdistan). When asked about this message, Kutum replied that the word “Kurdistan” and the flag in the tweetwere used officially in relations between Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government (SCF - Stockholm Center for Freedom). The question of the use of the word “Kurdistan” in Turkey to refer to neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan, with which Turkey has official relations, was also raised when Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar denied its existence in an exchange in parliament on the 17th. He had, however, visited the country in January...
On the 25th, another Kurdish shopkeeper, Haci Tunc, was arrested for using the “K-word”, this time in Van (Kurdistan-24).
The recurrence of these imprisonments led one of Van’s deputies, Murat Sarısaç, to formally put several parliamentary questions to the Turkish Vice-President, Fuat Oktay, on the 16th: “Is it illegal to use the term ‘Kurdistan’ to refer to a geographical, cultural and historical area where the Kurds have been living for millennia? If so, what is the reason for this ban?” Ironically, back in 2019, the Bianet website had posted a page entitled “Who can or cannot say ‘Kurdistan’ in Turkey: a guide” (https://bianet.org/english/freedom-of-expression/210526-who-can-and-cannot-say-kurdistan-in-turkey-a-guide). It recalled that some AKP leaders had used the word without consequence during their meetings...
The Kurdish language also continues to be discriminated against. On the 16th, singer Mem Ararat reported that one of his concerts, scheduled for 4 December at the Neşet Ertaş Cultural Centre in Ankara, had been cancelled by the authorities, even though most tickets had already been sold, because it contained songs in Kurdish. The municipality replied that the cancellation was due to false information on the declaration of the show, namely a different name, Mehmet Esen. However, this was the singer’s real name, Mem Ararat being his stage name... (SCF) The situation seems not to have changed much since 1999, when the singer Ahmed Kaya had to go into exile in France after announcing that a song on his future album would be sung in Kurdish. Is this a coincidence? The grave of Kaya, who died in France in 2000 and is buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, was desecrated on 13 November... (Le Figaro). Many elected officials, including the mayor of Paris, Mrs. Hidalgo, her deputies, Senator Rémi Féraud, and personalities from civil society condemned this desecration. On 16 November, the anniversary of his death, at the call of the Kurdish Institute, a large crowd gathered at his grave in the presence of his family.
In addition, arrests and convictions of HDP members continued. Earlier this month, the two former HDP co-chairs in Batman, Fatma Ablay and Ömer Kulpu, accused of PKK links, were sentenced to 20 months in prison for “propaganda for a terrorist organisation” and using an “illegal banner”. On the 7th, a mob attacked the HDP building in Kayapınar (Diyarbakir) with Molotov cocktails, without causing any casualties. The HDP building is located near a police station, but the nearby surveillance cameras were damaged after the attack... (WKI)
In Diyarbakir, the co-chairman of the Kurdish solidarity association MEBYA-DER, Şeyhmus Karadağ, was sentenced to six years and three months in prison for his press conferences. On the 8th, also in Diyarbakir, 14 people were arrested in early morning police raids, including 4 trade unionists, in education (Egitim Sen), health (SES), civil service (Tümbel Sen) and engineering (TMMOB). Not surprisingly, these are the unions most active in opposing the authoritarianism of the government. The previous week they had been referred to a disciplinary committee and were facing suspension without pay. Among the charges: having participated in demonstrations; having Kurdish newspapers or music on their computers (Union syndicale Solidaires).
As a particularly scandalous example of the AKP’s instrumentalization of the judiciary, on the 16th, Başak Demirtaş, the wife of imprisoned Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş, was sentenced in Diyarbakir to 30 months’ imprisonment, along with her doctor, for “presenting a falsified medical report”. In fact, it was a typo on the date of a medical leave document, dated 14 instead of 11 December 2014! According to the defence, which plans to appeal, the court had initially decided that the hospital’s register showing the dates Başak Demirtaş had visited it should be examined. This would have immediately proved the error. But the court preferred to pass sentence without examining it... (Kedistan) At the same time, the HDP submitted its preliminary defence in the closure investigation against it. The General Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation must respond within one month. The HDP will then have another month to file its main defence. Meanwhile, lawyers and some defendants boycotted the sixth session of the “Kobanê trial” for 106 defendants. The judge ordered the filing of a criminal complaint against the lawyers (WKI).
On the 17th, police special forces arrested in morning raids 27 people in Cizir and Silopi (Şırnak) and issued warrants for 6 others they could not find. The reason for the arrests was not given. During the raid, police officers abused two minors (RojInfo). The following week in Izmir, two participants in anti-ISIS demonstrations were sentenced to 10 months in prison and a third to 6 months, all for “propaganda for” and “belonging to a terrorist organisation”. On the 26th, police arrested six HDP members in Istanbul and 17 people in Adana for social media posts criticising the government. In Batman, police raided the home of a journalist, terrorising her family with their weapons and insulting the children. In Ankara, 17 people were arrested for protesting against the economic situation. Finally, former HDP MP Leyla Guven, already sentenced to 22 years and 6 months in prison, received an additional 5 years for “propaganda for a terrorist organisation”: in a speech in February 2020, she had endorsed Abdullah Öcalan’s calls for peace (WKI).
Finally, the Turkish authorities continue their policy of isolating prisoners. The best known case is that of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, for whom his lawyers have made hundreds of requests for visits without result, the last one having been refused at the end of November. The last contact with the outside world for Öcalan, who has been in solitary confinement for years, was a brief telephone conversation with his brother, Mehmet, in March 2021 (WKI). But Öcalan is not the only one to suffer from this policy. Earlier this month, Selahattin Demirtaş in a tweet protested the restrictions put in place under the pretext of the pandemic: “The Justice Ministry is working to turn these restrictions into a permanent usurpation of rights, turning the crisis into an opportunity [to isolate detainees]”. Başak Demirtaş had already indicated on Fox TV in early October that she had not been able to visit her husband in prison for 19 months.
On the morning of 7 November, an attack using three armed drones targeted the residence of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in Baghdad’s high-security “Green Zone”, where official buildings and foreign embassies are located. Kadhimi escaped unharmed from the assassination attempt, while seven of his guards were injured (AP).
The attack was not immediately claimed, but the pro-Iranian militias of the Hashd al-Shaabi (“Popular mobilisation”) were clearly singled out. While in the 2018 elections they had benefited from their participation in the victory over ISIS, in October they were sanctioned for their responsibility in the repression of the 2019 protests. For weeks, denouncing imaginary fraud, they had been rejecting the preliminary results that made them lose two-thirds of their seats in parliament. They encamped themselves at one of the entrances to the Green Zone and repeatedly tried to force their way in. On the 5th, one such attempt escalated when security forces used tear gas and live ammunition, killing one militiaman in the ensuing exchange of fire. On the 8th, two security officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq groups had carried out the attack in tandem.
In any case, this serious escalation exposes Iraq to a real risk of an intra-Shiite civil war... Kadhimi quickly appeared on television to call for calm, but it was still necessary to wait until the 30thfor the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) to announce the final results after a recount. These confirmed the victory of the Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr with 73 seats. Despite corrections giving it back some seats, the “Reconquest Alliance”, the political wing of theHashd al-Shaabi, remains the big loser, dropping from 48 to 17 seats. Unsurprisingly, it rejected the results and declared its intention to have them annulled. In Kurdistan, the KDP lost 2 of the 33 seats previously announced. A senior KDP official, Hushyar Zêbarî, former Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs, denounced a “political manipulation”.
These results must be ratified by the Federal Court so that the new parliament can hold its inaugural session and elect the President of the Republic, while the – expectably quite long – negotiations to form the future government will begin...
In the territories disputed between Kurds and Arabs, the terrorist organisation ISIS continues to take advantage of the security vacuum between Iraqi and Kurdish lines and is increasing its attacks in a worrying way. Moreover, their general situation remains poor. The collapse of basic services has provoked numerous demonstrations, such as in Kirkuk where waste is accumulating due to a lack of budget, with 500 tons not being collected out of the 700 tons produced daily... The third week of the month saw demonstrations from all sides: graduate students demanding jobs, shop owners protesting against a new tax, citizens protesting against the unfair distribution of provincial projects, wounded police officers demanding the allocation of land as for active officers... The security situation is so bad that after 10 years of work finally completed, Kirkuk “international” airport could not open, no company except Iraqi Airways wanting to land there! Moreover, corruption is rampant. On the 22nd, the brother of the interim governor Rakan Al-Jabouri was sentenced to 9 months in prison, as were three other defendants, all appointed to their posts by Al-Jabouri, who is himself the target of several investigations for corruption... (WKI)
This same Al-Jabouri is still conspicuous by his support for the return of the anti-Kurdish policy of the Saddam Hussein era. On 1erNovember, when the Kurdish schools in Kirkuk opened for the new school year with the Kurdish flag raised and the Kurdish anthem played, the director of the Provincial Education Department, Ali Tuma, launched an investigation into the principal of one of the schools. The following night, Iraqi Security units raided his home, which he had already left for the Kurdistan Region .... On the 4th, several Arab Iraqis tried unsuccessfully to occupy land belonging to Kurdish farmers near Sargaran (Kirkuk) with the support of a military unit, that the Kurdish farmers were able to prevent from entering their village. In Daquq, Iraqi soldiers raided the home of a known Kurdish activist. On the 22nd, an Iraqi military unit raided a Kurdish village where it checked the farmers’ title deeds, telling them that their land was registered in the name of Arab tribal leaders...
ISIS attacks are too numerous to report. In Kirkuk, they resumed at the end of October after a few weeks of relative calm, with an attack on a peshmerga base near Makhmour that left two dead. On 1st October, the jihadists kidnapped two civilians, and on 3 October, a new attack in the same area targeted both Peshmerga and Iraqi soldiers, without causing any casualties, while in Daquq, mortar fire killed two soldiers and wounded several civilians. In the west of the province, snipers shot dead four coal miners. Kurdish officials keep denouncing the failure of the federal government to coordinate joint security operations in the region. In Kirkuk, the Turkish-backed Turkmen Front and Sunni Arab lawmakers rejected at a press conference Al-Kadhimi’s orders to transfer a division of peshmerga to the Iraqi Ministry of Defence, which should allow joint operations...
Other attacks took place the following week, notably in Makhmur, while the Peshmerga Ministry announced that it had finally been able to carry out a joint operation with Iraqi forces near Nineveh. On the 12th, mortar fire hit Daquq, where pro-ISIS graffiti was found in two Kurdish neighbourhoods, prompting a security raid. Some residents suspected a provocation to increase tensions... On the 22nd, a ISIS drone was discovered in Kirkuk during a search in the Ryad district. On the 28th, five peshmerga were killed in Germyan when their vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device, and five others were injured in clashes. Other clashes occurred in Khanaqin, where one Iraqi soldier was killed on the 4thand four jihadists on the 12th, in Tuz Khurmatu, where two fishermen were shot by snipers on the 8th, and where a tunnel was destroyed from the air by an Iraqi F-16 on the 25th...
In Makhmur, on the 13th, a French commander of the International Coalition led a meeting between Peshmerga and Iraqis on (finally) security cooperation. On the 25th, the Iraqi-Kurdish Joint Command announced the seizure of four Katyusha rockets ready to be launched on the centre of Makhmur.
Adding to the general tension, Turkey continued its operations on Iraqi territory. On the 23rd, the Peshmerga Ministry reacted by denouncing a recent statement by the Turkish Defence Minister, Hulusi Akar, according to which “there is no Kurdistan of Iraq”. Indeed, questioned in the Turkish Parliament on the 17thby an HDP MP on the use of chemical weapons by the Turkish army in Iraqi Kurdistan, Akar, unhappy that she had used the word “Kurdistan”, had cut her off and declared: “I have to say one thing, [...] there is no Kurdistan, neither in Turkey nor anywhere else”. When HDP MP Garo Paylan asked him if there was no Iraqi Kurdistan, Akar replied “No” (Duvar). The Peshmerga Minister, recalling that his Turkish counterpart had visited Erbil in January and had met several political leaders there, asked ironically: “Can he tell us where he came and what the name was?” Meanwhile, in Kirkuk, Arshad Salihi, a Turkish-backed Turkmen Front politician, said that Kirkuk was Atatürk’s “heritage” to the Turkmen population, raising the ire of the city’s Kurdish population...
In Erbil, the Presidency of the Kurdistan Parliament led a meeting on the 3rdwith the leaders of the 12 parties represented in the assembly. The aim was to discuss the Parliament’s electoral law and the drafting of a new constitution for the Region. Iraqi Kurdistan is currently using a draft constitution adopted in 2009, but since then political disputes have prevented any progress. After each party representative gave his or her views on the formation of the constitution drafting committee, the Speaker of Parliament asked them to submit it in writing. The new constitution could be approved by referendum. The organisation of the next parliamentary elections in Kurdistan was also discussed, including the updating of the electoral lists and the organisation of the Kurdistan High Electoral Commission (KurdistanParliament).
On the 23rd, for the third consecutive day, more than 5,000 students demonstrated in Suleimaniyeh in front of their university to demand the reinstatement of their stipends (monthly assistance of US$40-66), which have been suspended since the 2014 financial crisis and never reinstated. One of the demonstrators said: “There arestudents among us who cannot go back home to the provinces because they do not have the money to travel, others do not have enough to eat three meals a day”. To disperse the students, who were blocking the road to Kirkuk, the security forces, after warning shots with live ammunition, used tear gas, water cannons and electric batons (AFP). The violence of the dispersal, shown in videos posted on social networks, provoked reactions of indignation as far as the Iraqi President and the PUK. The next day, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) announced that it would allocate funds to the Ministry of Higher Education to improve the situation of the students.
But the issue of financial aid seems to be only one part of the problems of higher education in Kurdistan. According to the testimony of another student, it is only “what set the fire”: “We demand [also] better services. We demand an end to political influence on university affairs. We demand a better education system” (Rûdaw).
The general situation in Syria remains chaotic, with constant clashes between the regime and the opposition and their respective supporters, Russia and Iran, or Turkey, especially in the Idlib “de-escalation zone”, as well as in Afrin. Throughout the month, Turkish artillery fire and bombardments on the territories of the Autonomous Administration of North-Eastern Syria (AANES) followed each other almost daily. As a sign of growing tension, all the protagonists have sent large reinforcements to the front lines this month.
Moreover, the resurgence of ISIS throughout the country is clearly seen. The Russian air force struck the jihadist organisation in the Syrian desert throughout the month, sometimes with up to 50 strikes in a single day: on 28 November, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) counted 560 strikes since the beginning of November, some in response to very deadly attacks. Finally, Israel again struck regime, Iranian or pro-Iranian militias positions (Lebanese Hezbollah...), as on the 3rdin the suburbs of Damascus.
On the health front, despite the regime’s disinformation, the SOHR estimated that 140,000 people were infected with COVID-19 from the 1stto the 5thalone, with 1,102 deaths, for a total of 5,500,000 infected people, of whom 5,120,000 recovered and 43,135 died. This is 16 times the official figure of 2,600. The saturation of hospitals is causing fears of an impending humanitarian catastrophe.
After the Turkish parliament voted on 26 October to authorise military operations in Syria and Iraq for two more years (a vote immediately denounced by Damascus), the Turkish media filled with threats of a new invasion of the Eastern Euphrates, causing fear among the inhabitants. Turkey increased the pressure from the beginning of November by deploying hundreds of additional fighters in its occupation zones and organising manoeuvres very close to the territories controlled by the AANES and its Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The latter, while denouncing provocations aimed at dragging them into a conflict, also reinforced their lines and deployed new weapons, notably near Tell Tamr (Hasakeh), a Christian town near the strategic M4 road that the occupiers and their mercenaries have been attacking for months. On the 5th, only a few hours after the passage of an American patrol, the Turks bombed two villages in the area, without causing any casualties. Further shelling followed on the 6thand 7th. On the 9th, a Turkish drone killed three members of the same family in their vehicle near Qamishli (VOA), including an 82-year-old man (AFP). In the afternoon, hundreds of residents demonstrated against the intensification of Turkish attacks.
Asked the same day by Al-Monitorabout the risks of a new Turkish attack, SDF commander Mazlum Kobanê said that since the previous Turkish invasions, the geostrategic situation in Syria had changed. Two agreements now constrain Turkey: the Putin-Erdoğan agreement of Sochi, and the US-Turkey agreement of October 2019: "In my opinion, unless Turkey gets approval from Russia or the US, Erdogan cannot launch such an action. And as far as I know, there is no such approval”. He also said that he had received official US assurances: “The US has said that it is opposed to any attack by Turkey against us and will not accept it”. On the 11th, American soldiers were said to have visited Tell Tamr to possibly establish a base there... But it is worth noting that the Pentagon has also stated that cooperation with the SDF is “exclusively” about the fight against ISIS, and that the unpredictable Turkish president is adept at “poker games”...
Kobanê also pointed out that ISIS was taking advantage of the economic downturn and called on “the international coalition and all counter-terrorism powers” to immediately help AANES in this regard, again calling on the US to exempt AANES from the “Caesar” sanctions...
On the 15th, after ten days of precarious calm, Turkish artillery fire hit the Abu Rasin area (Hasakeh), without causing any casualties. On the 17th, strikes targeted several villages in Shirawa (Afrin) where regime forces had recently deployed to reinforce their frontline against the Turks. On the 20th, the Turks again targeted the M4 road east of Ain-Issa (SOHR), violating the ceasefire “13 times in three days” (WKI). A SDF infiltration operation was met with more artillery fire; one Turkish soldier was killed. On the 23rd, the SDF and the Syrian army hit a Turkish checkpoint near Azaz, cutting off the Azaz-Afrin road. On the 27th, a car bombing in Manbij killed three civilians and injured five, including two members of the Asayish(Kurdish Security) (AFP).
Besides, the Turkish jandarmaguarding the border continue their exactions: two young men trying to enter Turkish Hatay from Idlib were shot dead on the 13th, a woman was severely beaten north of Hasakeh, a civilian killed with a broken neck on the 28thnorth of Hasakeh: since 2011, they have murdered 492 Syrian civilians, including 45 women and 90 minors... (SOHR)
Another, more low-noise, act of Turkish warfare is the withholding of water. The Dutch NGO PAX for Peace published a well-documented report on the 4th, combining field research and satellite images: since 22 May, the “Syrian National Army” (despite its name, a mercenary organisation of Ankara) has built three dams blocking the flow of the Khabur River towards the AANES region (https://paxforpeace.nl/news/blogs/killing-the-khabur-how-turkish-backed-armed-groups-blocked-northeast-syrias-water-lifeline). These dams deprive farmers of water at a time they need it the most. Increasing the impact of an already severe drought, they constitute for PAX a violation of international humanitarian law (AFP) and complete the water blockade exerted by the Turkish dams on the Euphrates, which have reduced its flow from 500 to 200 m3/s... Finally, the pro-Turkish jihadists stole on the 25ththe electricity poles supplying the Allouk pumping station to bring electricity to their own settlements, thus causing a two-day blackout and leaving 500,000 people in Hasakeh and the surrounding area without water. The power supply to Allouk was restored on the 30th(SOHR).
These violations have hardly elicited any reaction from the international community. They are all the more serious as they impact a region already facing COVID, deprived by Damascus of its vaccine quota, and lacking screening kits since the first week of the month...
In the Turkish-occupied areas, abuses continue, too numerous to report here. Arbitrary arrests are still used to obtain ransoms. On the 2nd, the military police in Raju (Afrin) prepared lists of about 100 civilians to be arrested in the village under various pretexts (SOHR). In the last two months, more than 300 people, including 25 women, have been abducted, and some of the victims tortured to death (RojInfo). For November, the “Afrin Activists Network” estimated the number of kidnappings at 71 and 3 deaths, one of them under torture... (WKI) The uprooting of olive trees also continues, as on 1stin Bulbul (65 trees). Olive crops are stolen; on the 12th, olives from over 1,000 trees were looted in Batran (Afrin). According to the SOHR, by October, pro-Turkish factions had already looted nearly 30,000 olive trees. They are now imposing on villages “taxes” in tanks of olive oil, sometimes several hundred for one village. In total, eight villages in Afrin had to provide 2020 tanks. The sharing of this loot continues to provoke regular fighting between factions...
In addition to this violence, there are now Russian strikes or artillery fire from the regime targeting Turkish settlements there. Indeed, after the Turkish threats of a new invasion, the Damascus army has strongly reinforced its front line with men, armoured vehicles and artillery...
Finally, the resurgence of ISIS is increasing. Assassinations and attacks continue, with a worrying return to more conventional attacks. On the 5th, a SDF fighter was found tortured to death in Raqqa. On the 8th, jihadists fired rockets at the SDF HQ in Busayra (Deir Ezzor) (SOHR). On the same day, the SDF destroyed a vehicle bomb near Hasakeh, apparently intended for an attack on the Sinaa prison, where thousands of jihadists are held. On the 21st, another SDF member was killed in Deir Ezzor. On the 28th, a bomb killed a woman and a child in Manbij and injured five people (SOHR).
In addition, the situation in Al-Hol camp, which still houses 60,000 detainees, 93% of whom are women and children, remains difficult. The authorities are continuing their programme of gradual releases. On the 7th, 48 families from Deir Ezzor were able to leave, followed the next day by 48 families, the 43rdgroup to be released, a total of 8,690 people since the summer of 2020 (ANHA). On the 13th, three Iraqis including a woman were murdered inside the camp. 78 people have been murdered in Al-Hol this year, 10 of them beheaded (Al-Monitor). On the 21st, the Asayish (Kurdish security) carried out a new security operation in the camp, arresting 14 detainees. On the 24th, a new group of 190 detainees was allowed to leave the camp under the guarantee of tribal leaders. On the 30th, a new security operation by the Asayishtargeting the Syrian internees’ section led to the discovery of automatic weapons... On the same day, Amnesty International launched a new appeal for the repatriation of the 27,000 children present in Al-Hol...
At the same time, Russia continues to blow hot and cold towards the AANES. On the 2nd, the Russian military conducted manoeuvres near Kobanê; on the 8th, a Russian general threatened to bomb Manbij if the SDF persisted in refusing to allow his armoured vehicles to enter... The Russians also seem to want to limit the Iranian presence in northern Syria. In parallel, there were rumours of discussions between Damascus and a delegation of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), a source of which indicated that as a sign of goodwill, the AANES had offered to pay Damascus 75% of the revenues from oil fields located on its territory. On the 11th, Sergei Lavrov, warning the Kurds against American promises that would push them towards separatism, offered Russia’s good offices for talks with Damascus: “We [...] are ready to do our best to ensure that their [the Kurds’] legal interests are taken into account [...] within the framework of the activities of the Constitutional Committee [in Geneva]” (Asharq Al-Awsat). At the end of the month, SDC President Ilham Ahmad led a SDC delegation to Moscow to meet Lavrov. Russia expressed its readiness to support new negotiations between Damascus and the AANES (WKI). All previous attempts to hold talks had had stumbled upon the intransigence of the regime...
The economic situation of the Iranian people is getting worse and worse as the cost of living increases. For months, protests have been going on throughout the country, with no sign of abatement. For example, teachers, especially in Kurdistan, are demanding payment of salaries that have not been paid, sometimes for months, and their increase. Despite the permanent risk of lethal repression, they marched on 11 November, supported by Kurdish opposition parties who demand, among other reforms, the right to teach in languages other than Persian (WKI).
In Esfahan, protests over water shortages have been gathering hundreds of people, including farmers, for weeks. These marches, although peaceful, were repressed on the 25thand 26thby tear gas and live ammunition. Several videos show the death of at least two demonstrators, including an elderly woman “killed in cold blood” according to a witness (Reuters). Security forces arrested 120 participants. Ahmad Alam al-Huda, a particularly conservative mullah, declared: “The water problem will not be solved by demonstrations, but by prayers for rain”... The water shortage is also affecting Iranian Kurdistan, with the regime modifying the courses of several rivers entering neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan.
As the anniversary of the November 2019 mass protests against the tripling of fuel prices approaches, the authorities are seeking to discourage public commemorations by all means, including those of the families of the victims of the fierce crackdown. It is estimated that 1,500 people were killed and more than 4,000 injured during the crackdown, and that 7,000 people were arrested. According to HRANA, the human rights activists’ news agency, relatives of victims were arrested, the Internet was sometimes cut off to prevent coordination, and access roads to cemeteries were closed under the pretext of “work”. In London, beyond the reach of the regime, the International Peoples’ Tribunal on Iran held four days of hearings, which allowed relatives of victims to testify (WKI).
On the 21st, the families of the 176 victims of the crash of Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752, shot down by the Revolutionary Guards in January 2020, gathered, carrying photos of their loved ones, demanding that those responsible be court-martialled (HRANA).
Finally, on the morning of the 23rd, the first hearing of the trial of Hamid Noury, which began last August, was held in Stockholm. This former prison officer, known to the prisoners as Hamid Abbassi, is being prosecuted for “war crimes” and “murder”. He is accused of having participated in the mass executions of political prisoners in Iran, which on the orders of Khomeini, according to the opposition, claimed tens of thousands of victims from July 1988 to early 1989 (CNRI). The regime continues to this day to deny the reality of these massacres, whose victims were buried in secret mass graves. According to the prosecution, Noury was at the time assistant to the deputy prosecutor at Gohardasht prison in Karaj, near Tehran. He denies any involvement, but Kenneth Lewis, a lawyer for the civil parties, told AFP: “He says he wasn’t there, but we have 58 people who say the opposite”. So did Reza Falahi, who told AFP: “When I was on death row, I had several opportunities to see him, and I saw that every time the names of (prisoners) were read out, he followed them to the execution room.[...]He would come back 45 minutes later, and the scene would be repeated several times a day”...
Noury was arrested in November 2019 on his arrival at Stockholm airport, and has been held ever since in Sweden. It was an ex-prisoner of Gohardasht who made his arrest possible: he had lured him to Sweden by promising him a cruise... (AFP) The feeling of impunity is so strong in Iran about these crimes that the defendant came without any concern. For this first trial of an Iranian official in this crime against humanity case, the Swedish justice system arranged for the entire court to be transferred for 10 days to Albania, where there are many members of the Iranian opposition whom the court wanted to hear. The trial will continue in December.
Concerning COVID, the situation remains as appalling as ever. On 1stNovember, the NCRI opposition, which compiles its own figures from regional data, counted more than 468,500 deaths due to the coronavirus in 547 cities, a figure that had risen to more than 483,200 by the 30th. This same day, the daily Jahan Sanat stated: “No restrictions have been imposed yet because of the new Omicron variant; people are left to their own devices, as they have been for the past two years”...
However, the regime’s forces continue their repression unperturbed. On the 2nd, they shot a man without warning near the border in Urmia. Veisi Badini, a father of two, was grazing his cattle when he was targeted. He was seriously wounded and died bleeding to death because his killers did not allow anyone to treat him (HRANA). According to Hengaw, Iranian security forces also wounded a shepherd and his wife near Sardasht on the 4th, and killed a cross-border porter (kolbar) near Baneh, Mohammed Khudayeh, and a trader, Farhad Zandi, falsely accused of smuggling (WKI).
On the 17th, a 15-year-old kolbar boy, Soroush Rahmani, committed suicide by hanging himself after his mules were shot by regime soldiers. Originally from Paveh, the young man had borrowed money to buy the animals, which he was now unable to pay back (HRANA). He had started working as a porter to pay for his father’s medical treatment for cancer... (WKI) On the 19th, the Kurdistan Human Rights Association KMMK reported that 3 kolbars had been arrested in Marivan. On the 21stand 22nd, Iranian guards injured 2 more kolbars near Nowsud. Finally, five other porters were injured when their vehicle fell into a ravine in Ravansour (WKI). On the 30th, the Washington Kurdish Institute(WKI) reported that at least 6 kolbarshad been injured by Iranian security forces in the previous week, including 4 ambushed in Nowsud and 2 others in Urmia and Piranshahr. Finally, three others were arrested on the 26thin Marivan.
Moreover, the terrible litany of arrests, convictions and executions has been enriched by new cases this month, as the regime has continued its relentless campaign of repression in Iranian Kurdistan. Already at the end of October, 7 people were arrested, including a father and son in Chaldiran, an environmental activist in Marivan and other Kurdish citizens in Oshnavieh, Sanandaj and Piranshahr. For the whole month of October, the Hengaw organisation counted 31 people arrested for political activism in Kurdistan...
On 3rdOctober, HRANA reported on the transfer on 27 October of three political prisoners from Urmia to an unknown destination. Two of them, Mohyeldin Ebrahimi and Mohyeldin Tazehvared, are death row inmates, so the transfer raises fears for their lives, even though they have both requested a retrial... Shot and wounded in October 2017 by an Iranian officer near the Iraqi border, Ebrahimi had been sentenced to death for smuggling alcohol, a verdict first changed by the Supreme Court before being confirmed again by another court... The request for a retrial of the two convicts has not been answered.
On the 2nd, a 26-year-old prisoner, Khosro Jamalifar, accused of murder and awaiting verdict, was beaten to death with a baton by guards at Sanandaj prison. The event occurred after a quarrel with another prisoner. Jamalifar died from a blow to the head, partly because the prison nurse did not send him for treatment and he was simply returned to his cell, where he died.
The following week was marked by a series of arrests by the Etelaat (Intelligence) throughout Kurdistan: two young men in Oshnavieh, an inhabitant of Marivan and one in Piranshahr. In addition, the security forces arrested the ecologist and journalist Ihsan Parsa in Lorestan. In terms of convictions, Kurdish cultural activist Mahmoud Neromend was sentenced in Mashhad to 10 years in prison for “links with opposition groups”, and in Saqqez, a woman was sentenced to one year in prison for membership of the PDKI. In Sanandaj, the trial of 7 activists who participated in the “Renaissance of Kurdistan” campaign started (WKI).
On 10 November, the Etelaatand the Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) launched a massive campaign of raids and arrests in Sanandaj, Baneh, Marivan and Saqqez, resulting in the arrest of 32 people. Human rights groups reported the use of large-scale military aircraft and forces in the Iranian raids in the Kurdish mountainous areas (WKI). On the 11thin Tehran, security forces arrested a 70-year-old Kurd, Omar Sharifi Bukani, and held him incommunicado. Already sentenced in 1992 to 7 years imprisonment for “belonging to an opposition party”, Bukani had served his sentence, and no reason was given for his new arrest. On the same day, at least nine residents of Baneh were also arrested in violent raids on their homes and held incommunicado. Again, no reasons were given for the arrests (HRANA). The crackdown continued the following week, with the number of arrests rising to 40, including 19 in Baneh. In Piranshahr, the authorities arrested three civil rights and environmental activists. Finally, on the 23rd, Hengaw reported that Kurdish activist Chya Aqabayeg had been sentenced in Bokan to 18 months in prison and 660 lashes for “propaganda against the government”, and that Kurdish political prisoner Shaker Behrozi, from Urmia, had gone on hunger strike after his death sentence was confirmed for the murder of a member of the Pasdaran – a charge he denies (WKI).
This month has been marked by another crisis involving migrants at the borders of Europe or the UK, mostly Kurds. At the beginning of November, the situation on the Belarus-Poland border was in the news, and at the end of the month, the deadly shipwreck in the English Channel between France and Great Britain was the focus of attention. That many Kurds are among the migrants seeking a better life is certainly not new. One only has to remember how the photo of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi, found drowned on a Turkish beach in September 2015, shocked the world. But if Alan was originally from Kobanê, in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan), this time there are more Kurds from Iraq. Among them, Maryam, 24 years old, who wanted to join her fiancé in England, drowned among the 27 victims of the 24 November shipwreck in the Channel. Baxtyar Anwar, 25, who died of exhaustion on his arrival in Germany from the Polish-Belarusian border, was a Kurd from Iran, but born as a refugee in Iraq. He thought he had found an “easier” way to Europe.
What led these young people to their deaths?
Maryam had tried twice to enter England legally, without success. Desperate, she finally attempted the crossing and drowned. In unison, the French and British governments blamed the smugglers. A French maritime official blamed the “cynicism” of the traffickers “who throw migrants into the water because it is a profitable business”. But the associations accuse rather the blocking of borders, like Vincent de Coninck, former worker at “Secours Catholique”: “It’s a disgusting hypocrisy to say that we are going to fight against the smugglers. They [the leaders] are the ones who made them! In the early 2010s, I knew a period when people were crossing without money. It is the over-security that made the networks". Finally, the Brexit has made family reunification almost impossible, as Maryam’s case demonstrates.
In Belarus, the trap that closed on entire families involved two governments: the Belarusian regime manipulated the migrants, luring them to its soil to put the European Union under pressure; the Polish government preferred to declare a state of emergency and send more than 15,000 soldiers to the borders to push them back rather than welcome them and thus appear to be giving in to Lukashenko. The Polish military pushed back migrants who had managed to cross into Belarus, and the European Union largely let this happen, violating humanitarian law. The French President said: “It is Europe’s deepest values – humanism, respect for the dignity of each person – that are in mourning”. Certainly true. But while the after-the-factstatements were nice, no one in Europe offered to take in the refugees stranded between Poland and Belarus when there was still time. Mention should also be made of Turkey, whose national airline was involved in the transit of travellers to Minsk, and Russia, from where clandestine passages were organised to Belarus, and a myriad of travel agencies, from Baghdad to Beirut, which pocketed sums of money, sometimes extremely high, for transporting the migrants...
This traffic, as ignoble as it is, was only made possible because its victims existed. When Iraqi Kurdistan has for decades appeared to be the most stable part of the country, why do so many of its young citizens seem to want to leave it at any cost, asked David L. Phillips for the Washington Kurdish Institute? Since they did not appear to be in direct political danger, and were thus considered “economic refugees”, they had little chance of obtaining asylum. However, when asked, they did not answer in terms of “economic betterment”, but simply “survival”. Some Kurdish civil servants have not been paid for months. Many young graduates say they have lost all hope of getting a job. Retirees have committed suicide because their pensions were so low...
The Iraqi government is largely responsible for the current desperation of Kurdish youth. After the September 2017 independence referendum, in which the “Yes” vote won by almost 93%, Baghdad stopped paying Kurdistan its share of the federal budget, before reducing it by authority from 17% to 12.6%, a share that has still not been paid. Finally, the economic structure of Kurdistan itself is very unbalanced, with 1.2 million civil servants out of 6 million inhabitants. This is partly due to the pre-eminence of the oil sector, which prevents the development of alternative sectors, but also to the delicate balance between the two main Kurdish parties, the KDP and the PUK, which are both allies and adversaries, with each of which constituting an employment network for which civil servant posts allow their supporters to be rewarded... Often, one must belong to one of these networks to hope to find a public job. When, in 2014, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki for the first time stopped paying Kurdistan its share of the budget, this system began to collapse for lack of autonomous finances. For some, extracting money from would-be migrants has become the only way to ensure their own livelihood. The mafia networks that bring migrants to Europe are partly Kurdish...
Interviewed in the Belarusian forest, some Yezidis explained that they were terrified at the prospect of having to return to their camps, where tents fires have already killed many members of their community... The instability of Sindjar, their region of origin, does not allow them to consider resettling there. “We did not leave in search of luxury, but to escape miserable conditions”, explained to AFP a Yezidi grandmother interviewed in Belarus. One of the reasons for this instability is the fight between Turkey and the PKK on Iraqi territory... In particular, Turkish drone strikes are incessant, including on the Makhmur refugee camp. More broadly, the incessant strikes by Turkish or Iranian drones or planes on the border areas of Kurdistan have certainly contributed to the general feeling of insecurity and lack of future that has pushed so many inhabitants to leave. The Kurds living in the disputed territories, for their part, are constantly being hit by ISIS or pro-Iranian militias, and put under the pressure of an Arabisation policy dating back to Saddam Hussein that is now making a comeback.
No, Kurdish migrants are not simply “economic refugees”. They actually want to escape a life only made of insecurity.
We are happy to announce that on October 24, 2021, the Center for Solidarity and Cooperation with Universities of North and East Syria (CSCUNES) was founded by a constitutive assembly of scholars from diverse backgrounds across the globe. Based in Paris, France, this center aims to support universities of Rojava and the north and east region of Syria (University of Rojava, University of Kobani, and University of Al-Sharq) for their advancement of educational and research programs.
Since the beginning of the Rojava Revolution in 2012, academics around the globe have been enthusiastically following the developments in Rojava and the north and east region of Syria. Amid the ruins of war in Syria, the people of the region established several academic institutions, such as the University of Afrin (currently under the Turkish occupation), the University of Rojava, the University of Kobani, and most recently the University of Al-Sharq in Raqqa. Scholars from across the globe offered their support for these universities, and memorandums of agreement between these universities and global academic institutions were signed. Significant collaborations, thus, were developed. As an outcome of these collaborations, the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Rojava was established in 2020. This experience demonstrated that collaborations with diverse academic institutions and scholars are essential to the advancement of academic research and education programs for the universities in the region. Upon these academic interests, the need for a stronger coordination of solidarity and cooperation efforts with these universities became visible. In response to this need, the CSCUNES was established.
In coordination with the University of Rojava, the University of Kobani, and the University of Al-Sharq, this center intends to:
Introduce these universities to the academic and research institutions in France, Europe, and around the world. Recruit staff for scientific research and teaching in these universities. Develop research and teaching collaborations with academic institutions in France, Europe and around the world. Facilitate knowledge and student exchange programs with other universities and institutions in France, Europe, and around the world. Organize academic activities (such as panels, talks, seminars, exhibitions, and conferences) for knowledge exchange. Assist the universities with their digital media platforms. Assist the universities with the translation and interpretation projects and tasks. Provide educational and infrastructural resources to the universities (such as academic books, subscriptions to academic platforms, laptops, and other research and educational materials).
The center’s website is under development, but in future, you can find more details on how to support this initiative https://www.cscunes.com. In the meantime, please send your inquiries to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Board of Directors