Eighteen months before the next presidential elections, the Turkish economy continues its collapse, with a terrible balance sheet for 2021: the lira has lost 50% of its value against the dollar, official inflation has reached 21.4%, but according to the Inflation Research Group (ENAGrup), the price index is really at 82,10%, more than twice the figure of the Tüik Statistical Institute (WKI), accused by the opposition of systematic underestimation. The leader of the Kemalist opposition CHP party, Kemal Kilicdaroğlu, went there on the 3rd to demand “the real figures”, without success. The situation is so bad that the head of investments at UBS stopped covering the dollar-pound pair on the 14th (Reuters). In Diyarbakir, thousands of Kurds demonstrated on the 18th to protest against Erdoğan’s economic policy, which is worsening poverty everywhere (WKI).
It is the products of daily consumption (oil, meat, eggs...) that have increased the most, affecting modest and middle-class households. On the 6th, presenting the calculations of the Municipal Planning Committee, the CHP Mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoğlu, indicated an average cost of living increase of 50,18%. According to the Committee, sunflower oil has risen 137.59%! (Le Monde). Rents and transport are becoming exorbitant (fuel has risen 40%). Faced with growing shortages, signs of distress among the population are multiplying: queues in front of bakeries and petrol stations, sporadic spontaneous demonstrations, farmers unable to pay back their loans, as companies that have borrowed abroad... Many young people are leaving the country. In Istanbul, the queues are getting longer in front of the municipal kiosks selling subsidised bread at half price, which has become a staple food for many. In the queue, no one wants to give their name to foreign journalists: the slightest criticism can lead to court; for broadcasting interviews with disgruntled passers-by, several youtubers are awaiting trial under house arrest, banned from leaving the country (Le Monde). The cost of electricity has also become prohibitive: on the 20th, a baby froze to death in Diyarbakir after the electricity distributor DEDAŞ cut off the family’s power supply for lack of payment.
While the crisis has long-standing structural causes, President Erdoğan is the main culprit behind the current collapse through his insistence on deciding monetary policy alone and keeping interest rates low, following the economic precepts of... the Koran. His televised statements at the end of November so precipitated the currency’s fall (–8% almost while he was speaking!) that his former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu tweeted at him: “For God’s sake, shut up!”.
Since the introduction of a strong presidential system in 2018, Mr Erdoğan’s isolation and refusal of any criticism has increased. His constant response to the crisis: autism and repression. In 2019, he sacked a Central bank manager (an institution supposed to decide monetary policy without political interference) who refused to lower the 24% interest rate. This was the first of many sackings... The latest was that of Finance Minister Lütfi Elvan, a seasoned economist not very favourable to the president’s theories, who was replaced by Nureddin Nebati, an AKP businessman who is a follower of the “new economic model” (Le Monde) “à la chinoise” advocated by the president: a weak currency boosts exports, and low interest rates encourage transactions, borrowing, investment and hiring. Unfortunately, in a country as dependent on imports as Turkey, the prices of raw materials, car parts, medicines, fuel and fertilisers are becoming prohibitive, and foreign investors, frightened by the collapse of the pound, are withdrawing en masse. Finally, the lower the rates, the faster inflation rises (NY Times).
On the 20th, the Turkish President had to make concessions by indexing certain bank deposits in Turkish pounds to the dollar (Le Monde). He thus succeeded in making the currency temporarily rise by 34%. But if inflation continues, which is more than likely, the effect of this measure will hardly last... Moreover, the political repression exercised by Mr Erdoğan is beginning to invite itself into the economic field: on the 3rd, the Council of Europe, meeting in Strasbourg, announced the opening of a rare infringement procedure that could lead to sanctions against Ankara. The reason: the continued detention without trial for four years of Osman Kavala, despite the decision of the European Court of Human Rights calling for his “immediate release” since December 2019. As a founding member of the Council of Europe, Turkey could lose its veto and voting rights if it continues to refuse to implement the ECHR’s judgments.
In search of cash, Erdoğan has embarked on what the online periodical Orient-XXI calls a “New Realpolitik”, a “quest for all-out alliances in the Middle East, even at the cost of bitter ideological renunciations”. Contacts have resumed with Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Armenia, the Emirates... On 24 November, the latter signed economic agreements with Ankara and announced 10 billion dollars of investments in the Turkish economy. In exchange, Ankara should “calm down” the media close to the Muslim Brotherhood installed on its soil. Another target is the African market: on the 17th and 18th, the “3rd Turkey-Africa Summit” was held in Istanbul, with some forty senior African officials, including 13 Heads of state and 2 Prime ministers. The military aspect featured prominently: already present in Libya, Turkey has had a base in Somalia since 2017, and in 2020 signed secret military agreements with Niger, probably providing for the installation of a Turkish base. In addition, Turkish drones are selling well... Finally, on the educational front, after 2016 Ankara took over the management of a hundred Gülen schools, which compete with France by offering training in English.
Internally, the AKP government continues to try to divert citizens’ anger towards Kurds and Syrian migrants, against whom acts of racist aggression have recently much increased.
On the 20th, the SOHR revealed that on 16 November, three young Syrians had died in a racist fire in Güzelbahçe (Izmir). Subject to censorship, the media did not publish anything. The attacker, who was released, stabbed two other people a few days later. On the 26th, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reporting on another case, spoke of a “wave of killings” targeting Syrian migrants in Turkey: on the 22nd, a young Syrian who tried to intervene between his roommate and an armed Turk who had entered the building was himself killed. On social media, messages calling for a mass expulsion of Syrians spread like wildfire.
The other scapegoat remains the Kurdish community, subjected to ever more discrimination and repression, and also the victim of numerous racist attacks, the perpetrators of which often go unpunished. Thus, on the 3rd, Sergeant Musa Orhan, who had kidnapped and raped for 20 days a young 18-year-old Kurdish girl, İpek Er, who then shot herself, was sentenced in Siirt to 10 years in prison, but not even incarcerated! (Duvar) Quickly released pending his appeal, Orhan was simply dismissed from the army and according to Hürriyet placed under judicial supervision with a ban on leaving the country during this period (Rûdaw).
On the 14th, with the opening of the trial of the racist murder of 7 members of the Dedeoğulları family near Konya on July 30th, damning evidence emerged. The fascist killer, Mehmet Altun, had shot the 5 women and 2 men in their home before setting it on fire. The survivors’ lawyer, Abdurrahman Karabulut, denounced a premeditated murder involving paramilitaries. A first attack involving 60 assailants, in which seven family members were seriously injured, had taken place on 12 May, but local security, the prosecutor and the criminal justice of the peace ignored the family’s requests for protection. Karabulut filed a complaint against them. Moreover, although several of the attackers are found in both cases, the court refused to link the two cases, and did not even respond to Karabulut’s requests for further arrests. Of the 13 people arrested after the murder, only Altun remained in prison. The court also rejected the civil party applications of the Turkish Bar Association (TBB) and the Human Rights Association (İHD). Finally, the murderer, although unemployed, had a well-filled bank account...
On the 20th, a new racist attack took place in the Türközü district of Ankara, where a group of fascists armed with knives and sticks injured a 17-year-old Kurdish boy, Volkan Temel, and threatened him with death: “Türközü will be the tomb of the dirty Kurds”. Again, this is the second attack on this family. Volkan’s brother said that at the police station the police officers refused to take their complaint, and told them: “Get out of here, we can’t throw you in jail but we can write a report against you” (Kurdistan au féminin).
On the 28th, a gunman attacked the HDP building in the Bahcelievler district of Istanbul and injured two members inside. According to local media, the man entered the building and threatened to kill the members inside. The assailant was arrested.
To this list must be added the atrocities in Turkish prisons this month, which are the subject of a separate article – including the terrible fate of the young Kurdish female prisoner Garibe Gezer, who was tortured, raped and murdered in the women’s prison of Kandıra (Kocaeli).
At the same time, the political repression continued in an uninterrupted cycle of arrests, trials and convictions. The 7th hearing of the “Kobanê Trial” against 108 HDP members opened on the 5th, but lasted only 5 minutes due to the absence of the defence lawyers, who had refused to submit to the conditions imposed on them. At the 21st hearing, former HDP Executive Board member Bülent Parmaksız, who was accused of “talking politics” by the President for criticising the government’s economic policy, retorted: “This case is a political case. There is nothing to say here legally” (Bianet). Speaking from his cell, Selahattin Demirtaş denounced the conditions imposed on the defence lawyers, who are forced to travel in the middle of winter every morning to Sinjan prison outside Ankara. At the same time, the government has started a procedure to withdraw the parliamentary immunity of 15 new HDP deputies.
Also, on the 4th, police raided the home of the Vice President of the Human Rights Association İHD, Eren Keskin. On the 11th, at least eleven HDP members or supporters were arrested in simultaneous raids in Şırnak, Cizre and Silopi. Meanwhile, in Diyarbakir, the co-chair of the Kurdish solidarity association MEBYA-DER, Yüksel Almas, was sentenced to ten years in prison for “belonging” to the PKK. In November, the association’s male co-chair, Şeyhmus Karadağ, had received six years and three months in prison for requesting information about those killed in the 2015 anti-Kurdish crackdown.
Moreover, the Kurdish language is still de facto banned. On the 5th , the 400th anniversary of Molière’s birth, the governor of Mardin banned the performance of the Kurdish version of his play Tartuffe (RojInfo). Could it be because the main character is a false religious hypocrite? In parliament on the 12th, in protest, Kurdish MP Feleknas Uca, after delivering her speech on education in Turkish, tried to repeat it in German and then in Kurdish, despite the shouts of AKP and MHP MPs: “Everyone but you is aware that being multicultural and multilingual does not divide but enriches a country”, she said. “You are so uncomfortable with the Kurdish language that intervening at the national level was not enough; you pressured Japan to abolish the Kurdish language courses that started at the University of Tokyo. [...] Why are you so afraid of the Kurdish language?” (Kurdistan au Féminin)
The overall situation in Syria is still characterised by multiple confrontations between local and foreign adversaries. ISIS jihadist organisation continues to pose a real challenge throughout the country, and the Russian air force has struck it repeatedly in the Syrian desert. It also launched more than 40 strikes against the jihadist stronghold of Idlib during the month, sometimes targeting its Turkish supporters. On 7 December, Israel bombed an Iranian shipment in the port of Latakia, probably arms, before striking again on 28 December, killing two members of a pro-regime militia. On the ground, the international actors, the United States, Russia and Turkey, continue their military activities, sometimes clashing locally. On nine occasions, US military convoys have been blocked at regime checkpoints.
In north-eastern Syria, Turkey and its mercenaries continued their harassment of the Autonomous Administration (AANES) and its Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Clashes took place all along the frontline between Turkish-occupied areas and SDF positions, notably near the strategic M4 highway (Hasakeh-Aleppo).
Turkish shelling and clashes with the SDF included Ain-Issa, between Raqqa and Tell Abyad. On the 2nd, the SDF carried out an infiltration operation against a Turkish base near Tell Tamr and the M4 highway, exchanging fire for several hours with the Turkish garrison before withdrawing. The fighting thus initiated continued for several days. On the 8th, after unspecified mortar fire on a Turkish base near Al-Bab, the Turkish army and its auxiliaries fired more than 30 rockets on the areas controlled by the Al-Bab Military Council (which is seeking to retake this Turkish-controlled town). On the 13th, jihadist factions launched a ground attack near Ain-Issa with the support of Turkish artillery. The shells damaged the electricity network and deprived the Christian town of Tell Tamr of power, which was cut off again on 17 for the same reason. For several days in a row, Turkish jihadists and SDF exchanged heavy fire from Tell Tamr to Zarkan, some 30 km east of Serê Kaniyê (Ras al-Aïn). On the 19th, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a convoy of eight regime military trucks brought to the countryside of Ain-Issa nearly 2,300 mines intended to block the road to the Turco-jihadists in case of an attack on the M4.
On the 23rd, Turkish artillery killed 3 and wounded 9, including 3 children aged 4, 8 and 11 who were seriously injured; 3 members of the “Syrian National Army” (despite its name a militia serving Ankara) were killed. Following the deaths of several civilians, including a woman and her very young daughter, tribal and religious leaders in Jazira condemned the Turkish strikes on Tell Tamr and Zarkan in a joint statement addressed to the International Coalition, Russia, the Security Council and human rights organisations. The text asks the addressees to investigate the “merciless and inhuman violations” of the Turkish army, perpetrated “despite ceasefire agreements guaranteed by several countries” (SOHR).
On the 25th, a Turkish drone killed 5 members of the “Revolutionary Youth” in a house in Kobanê. On the 27th, the inhabitants of two nearby villages, furious about this strike, blocked the passage of a Russian-Turkish patrol escorted by two Russian helicopters with stones (SOHR). On the 30th, the funeral of one of the victims turned into a protest against the Turkish aggression. At the same time, the Turks bombed the areas between Tel Rifaat and Sheikh Issa, where Russian and regime forces are stationed. On the 26th, a Turkish drone bombed a regime military post in Tel Rifaat. In response, the latter struck a residential area near Marea, without causing any casualties. On the 28th, violent clashes between the “National Army” and Kurdish forces took place near Marea.
On the 27th and in the following days, clashes again took place between pro-Turkish factions and the SDF-affiliated Manbij Military Council on the frontline with the Turkish-occupied “Euphrates Shield” strip. On the evening of the 29th, more than 50 Turkish rockets fell near Al-Farat, west of Manbij, killing a woman and her very young daughter. On the 29th, the Turkish army brought in reinforcements near Tell Abyad, before again using artillery against the M4 road near Ain-Issa, without causing any casualties.
On the Syrian-Turkish border, the Turkish Jandarma (“Gendarmes”) continued their exactions. On the 7th, they shot dead a Syrian civilian trying to enter Turkey north of Idlib. On the 20th, they beat another civilian to death. On the 29th, they shot and seriously wounded a shepherd guarding sheep near Hasakeh. According to the SOHR, since the beginning of the Syrian revolution they have killed 496 people, including 45 women and 90 children, and in 2021 alone, 35 civilians, including one woman and eight children. The SOHR, which published a damning account of these killings online (https://www.syriahr.com/en/231759/), called on the 22nd for the case to be referred to international courts.
Turkey has also continued its “water war” against AANES, as the detailed report of the Dutch NGO Pax for Peace (https://PaxForPeace.nl) already showed at the end of November. These deleterious activities directly targeting the civilian population, cutting off the Khabur and withholding water from the Euphrates, add to the severity of a drought which, further accentuated by climate change, has been affecting the whole of Syria for the past 15 years. The AANES region, the country’s traditional breadbasket, is the most affected by the lack of rainfall. Some reservoirs have run dry for the first time in 30 years, and wheat production has been cut at least in half. In the context of a serious “bread crisis”, the regime, lacking foreign currency, stopped fertiliser subsidies last summer, and Damascus and AANES are fighting over the remaining wheat. Another aggravating factor is that Western sanctions are causing shortages and price hikes for fuel used in irrigation pumps. Finally, at the end of the month, it was paradoxically storms and floods that hit Syria as well as Iraq, damaging or destroying more than 1,200 tents in camps for displaced people on the 19th in north-western Syria...
In Afrin and in the other areas occupied by the Turks and their mercenaries, the abuses continue and even seem to be increasing, as they follow each other at a steady pace... Too numerous to be reported, they include kidnappings disguised as arrests, thefts of houses, fruit trees, crops and plundering of the heritage, with the sole aim of money: sale of stolen archaeological artefacts or goods, imposition of fines or taxes (e.g. on crops), or simply ransoms to save the life of the kidnapped relative. Frequently, people who are ‘arrested’ in this way are not accused of anything specific, although ‘relations with the former administration’ may be used as a pretext. Sometimes, a person whose family has already paid is “arrested" again” even repeatedly, to extort new ransoms... The Afrin-Syria Human Rights Organisation counted more than 660 kidnappings in 2021 in the region of Afrîn (Rûdaw).
The destruction of fruit trees is countless and we report only a few examples, as witnessed by informants from the SOHR. On the 1st, the Al-Jabha Al-Shamiyah faction shot hundreds of them in the Al-Maabatli neighbourhood to sell them in Afrin. In Aukan (Bulbul), 120 olive trees were cut down... The thieves are never stopped at the Ankara-backed jihadist checkpoints. In Serê Kaniyê, in the Turkish occupation zone “Source of Peace”, members of Ahrar Al-Sharqiyah, Sultan Murad and Al-Hamza Division also continued their systematic felling of orchards to sell the fruit trees as firewood... In Tell Halaf, 2 km away, the municipal council installed by the occupiers destroyed on the 18th about twenty shops that the owners had refused to hand over to the pro-Turkish fighters.
On the 29th, members of the Ahfad Muhammad and Sultan Murad factions forcibly took over 20 houses belonging to IDPs in Hassan Dera (Bulbul) and Afrîn, which could then be sold to IDPs from other areas...
Picking up on practices learned from ISIS, the factions are also looting the archaeological heritage of the regions they control to sell their finds on the black market. Thus two sites near the villages of Ma’rata and Samalka, once registered with the Syrian Directorate of Antiquities, are now almost destroyed by the bulldozers of the “National Army”. In Kali Khariba (Raju), the Mohamed Al-Fateh faction has brought excavation machinery and has been searching the site since 22 November, in full view of the Turkish forces.
To all this we must add the activities of ISIS. On the 2nd, the jihadist organisation reminded the regime of its existence by attacking a bus carrying employees of the oil site of Kharata (Deir Ezzor), controlled by Damascus. The attack left 10 passengers dead and one injured. To finance its activities, ISIS has also started to extort money from oil companies that have signed an exploitation agreement with AANES: the jihadists demand 20% of the production to “protect” their employees...
In Al-Busayra, in the AANES-controlled part of the province, armed motorcyclists attacked the buildings of the Popular Assembly and the Women’s Council on the 6th, and several SDF bases on the 10th, this time with anti-tank rockets. On the 13th, a joint operation between the SDF and the Coalition identified and eliminated 5 jihadists wearing explosive belts near the town, two of whom, travelling on motorbikes, were killed by helicopter fire (AFP).
According to the SOHR, during 2021, ISIS carried out 342 attacks in northern Syria that killed 228 people, including 5 children, 9 women and 135 members of the security forces or the SDF. Conversely, during the same period, the SDF arrested 858 suspected jihadists in joint operations with the coalition, of whom 449 were later released, while the rest remain in custody. According to their own statistics, in 2021 the SDF conducted 115 security operations resulting in the foiling of 16 large-scale attacks, the dismantling of 93 sleeper cells and the arrest of 802 terrorists (WKI).
With regard to the relatives of detained jihadists, repatriations of foreigners continue at a snail’s pace. On the 7th, AANES handed over to the Swiss authorities two girls, aged 9 and 15, detained with their mother in Roj camp. With the agreement of their mother and her lawyer, they travelled to Switzerland via Iraq. On the 8th, 100 Iraqis were repatriated to Iraq. Half of the 60,000 internees in Al-Hol are Iraqis (Le Figaro). In this camp, the security situation remains abysmal. On the 15th, the SOHR reported 3 murders in 24 hours, probably by jihadist cells. On the same day, a 28-year-old French detainee died of diabetes in Roj camp. Her lawyer, Marie Dosé, asked for the repatriation of her 6 year old daughter, whose father died, and declared that she wanted to take the case to the Court of Justice of the Republic for the third time for “failing to provide help”: she had informed the Elysée and the Quai d’Orsay in 2019 of the “catastrophic state of health” of this woman, through numerous emails which “never received any response”. On the 16th, the government reacted minimally by describing the detainee’s death as “sad news”...
On the 31st, the SOHR calculated that in 2021, the number of murders in Al-Hol had risen sharply compared to 2020: 89 cases against 33. In addition, 74 children were victims of the poor conditions there: 41 Iraqis, 23 Syrians, 10 Europeans...
Since the parliamentary elections of 10 October, Iraq is still waiting for the formation of its new government. At the beginning of December, the different Shiite blocs in the Baghdad parliament started a new round of negotiations, but the talks between the Sadrists and the Iranian-backed parties, angry about the election results, were expected to remain difficult. After the final confirmation of the results by the Supreme Court, a Sadrist delegation went to Erbil to meet representatives of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) which, together with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), is one of the two main Kurdish winners of the elections. The KDP and PUK are waiting for the Shiite blocs to reach an agreement before they can themselves join the negotiations.
The situation in the territories disputed between Kurdistan and Baghdad is as tense as ever. Their inhabitants feel abandoned in the face of ISIS, which takes advantage of the vacuum left between Kurdish and Iraqi lines to intensify its attacks. West of Kirkuk, the jihadists harass the area every night, causing many families to flee. On the 5th, Kurdish and Iraqi authorities announced coordinated operations to protect the area, and on the 6th, peshmerga and Iraqi forces entered one of the villages concerned, allowing the return of families (RFI). Beyond this case, the Kurds are calling for a global security coordination with the return of the peshmerga in certain areas. The agreements already made are still hardly applied.
The fierce opposition of the pro-Iranian Shiite militias of the Hashd al-Shaabi to the American presence also impacts the anti-ISIS fight. Some groups have already attacked American soldiers or even the embassy with rockets or drones. Operating under surveillance, the Anti-ISIS Coalition is keeping a low profile. On the 9th, Qassem al-Aaraji, the national security advisor, announced that it had “finished its combat mission” in Iraq and was moving to a “training and advisory” role. This transition had already been announced this summer by Joe Biden, and the approximately 2,500 American troops and the thousand coalition soldiers deployed in Iraq should remain there (Le Figaro).
Far from being over, the anti-ISIS struggle continues on all fronts. In Khanaqin, near Iran border, November had ended with a series of attacks on the peshmerga near Kifrî and an attack on an Iraqi military convoy on the main road to Qara Tapa, the first since 2017. On the 2nd, media reported the arrest on 29 November by Kirkuk Security in Taza district of a female ISIS spy, the widow of a fighter killed in Hawija in 2017. In addition, the federal police announced that they had prevented an attack and arrested 5 jihadists (WKI). On the evening of the 2nd, jihadists attacked the village of Khidir-Jija, south of Erbil, and killed 3 civilians and 2 peshmerga. The reinforcements sent to the scene, hit by a homemade bomb, lost 7 fighters, and another was killed in an accident, bringing the death toll to 13. Kurdistan’s Prime Minister Masrour Barzani asked the Coalition and Baghdad “to supply arms to the Peshmerga because they are defending the homeland” (AFP). The next day, a meeting between the peshmerga and the Baghdad security forces concluded (for the n-th time) that “coordination on the ground” is necessary.
On the night of the 5th, a new attack on a peshmerga outpost near Qara Salem, north of Kirkuk, left 4 dead and 5 wounded. The Washington Kurdish Institute reported on the 7th that in three weeks, 24 peshmerga had been killed. These attacks by ISIS have “reignited Kurdish anger at the security vacuum in the region, caused since October 16, 2017 by the Iraqi government’s policies”. In response, the peshmerga launched several “mop-up” operations the following week, while new Kurdish-Iraqi coordination meetings and several joint operations took place, notably in Makhmur, Kifri and Shwan. On 11 November, the Kirkuk Operations Commander, Ali al-Fariji, and the Peshmerga Deputy Minister, General Jabar Yawer, met in Erbil. Sulaimaniyeh Security announced the dismantling of several sleeper cells in Halabja and Sayid Sadiq and the arrest of 17 jihadists, including a commander. Erbil Security also announced the capture of several jihadists, some of whom confessed to logistical support for attacks in Baghdad (WKI).
Also on the 11th, Kirkuk police announced the arrest of 60 street beggars, 23 women and 37 children aged 6-12, reportedly used as spies by ISIS... On the 16th, a mass grave containing the bodies of dozens of Iraqi policemen murdered by ISIS in 2018 was discovered in the disputed territories, in Duraji, northwest of Kifrî (AFP). On the 17th, peshmerga seized a ISIS cache and “defused a series of explosive devices laid out along the road near Qarah Tapa” (WKI).
Makhmur and its oil facilities were also targeted. On 4 November, the Freedom Movement (Tevgera Azadi) condemned the attack claimed by ISIS on the night of 30-31 November, which had killed 10 Peshmerga and 3 civilians. The organisation also criticised the authorities for failing to protect civilians near Makhmur. A previous attack on the village of Qarach, near Makhmur, was repelled at the end of November by the inhabitants... Jihadists remain entrenched in the Qara Chokh Mountains, whose siege was broken by Iraqi security forces in late November. On the 19th, ISIS attacked two Iraqi military posts, wounding one soldier. On the 31st, a Kurdish volunteer force repelled another attack in the area, killing 4 terrorists. Iraqi security officials said they feared further attacks on oil facilities.
In the last two weeks of December, improved Iraqi-Kurdish cooperation finally led to some reduction in ISIS attacks in the “disputed territories”. But the terrorist group retained the ability to launch operations and showed this by wounding an Iraqi soldier in Tuz Khurmatu on the 31st. On the same day, however, the peshmerga announced that they had seized ammunition and explosive devices near Kifrî in a joint operation with Iraqi forces... (WKI)
In addition to the jihadist risk, the situation in the disputed territories remains marked by the poor quality of basic services, corruption, and the resumption of the Arabisation policy targeting Kurds, but sometimes also Turkmen. On the 2nd, the Kirkuk Integrity Commission launched a new investigation against the Head of the Education Department. Ali Tuma is the target of several complaints of corruption concerning the recruitment of teachers: in 2019 and 2021, he had recruited 77% Arabs to the detriment of Kurds and Turkmens. The man is already known for having had his bodyguards chase away journalists from the first day of school on 1st November and for having launched an investigation into the headmaster of one of the city’s Kurdish schools, who was guilty of having raised the Kurdish flag at the start of the school year to the sound of the Kurdish anthem... Still on the subject of corruption, the Kirkuk Court of Appeal annulled the prison sentences imposed on 4 provincial officials close to the interim governor Rakan al-Jabouri, sending the case back to court for retrial. The defendants, including al-Jabouri’s brother, had been given nine months in prison following a complaint by the Integrity Commission.
The same Rakan al-Jabouri continues to support attempts to arabise agricultural land in the province. On the 14th, several Kurdish parties held a joint meeting to call for the election of a new governor and the involvement of the peshmerga in maintaining security in the province. The KDP, which did not participate in the meeting, through the voice of MP Shakhwan Abdullah criticised the final declaration which “did not include a single line on the Arabisation process that the Kurds are facing in the province”.
Turkish military presence and strikes, for which Ankara uses the presence of the PKK as a pretext, continue throughout northern Iraq, causing concern, anger and tension. On the 7th, a Turkish drone killed a commander of the Sinjar Resistance Units (YPŞ), a Yezidi force close to the PKK, in his car. Denouncing the attack, the Free Yezidi Foundation called on Baghdad as well as Erbil, but also on NATO, of which Turkey is a member, and the UN Security Council, to put an end to these outrageous strikes against the Yezidi community: “Wasn’t it enough to suffer the #Yazidi Genocide?” the Foundation tweeted.
On the 9th, the Turkish Ministry of Defence announced the death of 3 soldiers in Iraq in an attack attributed to the PKK, and the “neutralisation” of “six terrorists” in response. On 12 December, the PKK-backed Sinjar “Autonomous Administration” imposed a general boycott of public services because of Baghdad’s silence in the face of the Turkish strikes. In the Sinunî district, two protesters were injured when Iraqi security forces opened fire on a demonstration; an Iraqi soldier was also injured. A new drone strike on an administrative building used by the YPŞ in Khana Sor reportedly killed 2 people, according to initial reports, later non confirmed. At the end of the month, Turkish artillery fire in Dohuk province hit the village of Hiror, and several airstrikes hit Sharbashjer district (Suleimaniyeh).
On the 23rd, the Turkish ambassador to Iraq, Ali Rıza Güney, visited Kirkuk and held a meeting at the Ankara-backed Turkmen Front HQ, during which he met with the governor. The governor was criticised for coming there rather than receiving the ambassador at the governorate, where according to protocol he should have gone first.
Moreover, while Turkey has been accused for months of using chemical weapons in its anti-Kurdish operations in Iraq and Syria, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which held its 26th Annual Conference in The Hague (Netherlands) from 29 November to 3 December, did not even discuss the issue. In a press release issued for the opening of the session, the Kurdish National Congress (KNK) reiterated its call for a delegation of experts to be sent to the affected area, observing that “if the OPCW were to ignore its responsibility to protect all people from chemical weapons, it would be violating its own regulations and seriously damaging the credibility of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)” (MedyaNews). The OPCW’s lack of response triggered Kurdish demonstrations in The Hague, during which 50 people were arrested (France-24). In addition, a “Coalition against Chemical Weapons in Kurdistan” has formed and prepared its own international delegation to visit the region. Murat Karayilan, a member of the PKK’s executive committee, said on Stêrk TV that five different gases used by Turkey had been identified, from mustard gas to the nerve agent Tabun.
This month has also been marked by the grief of the families of the migrants who drowned in the Channel on 24 November, most of whom were Kurds from Iraq. The first identified victim, young Maryam, who left Soran to join her fiancé already settled in the United Kingdom, has become the symbol of this misfortune. Having been refused a reunification visa several times, she had finally attempted an illegal crossing. In mid-December, more than 3,000 Kurds who had been stranded for weeks at the Belarus-Poland border were repatriated by plane, but the coffins of the victims from the Channel only landed on the 26th. They sere families, and many young people, some of them highly educated but desperate for prospects.
Finally, on the 17th, floods caused by exceptional rainfall killed at least 12 people overnight in the suburbs of Erbil, including women and children. Most of the victims were drowned in their homes. The floods also hit Suleimaniyeh province, where the body of an 18-year-old was found in Takya.
The reopening of negotiations on the Iranian nuclear issue on 29 November in Vienna quickly ended in disappointment for the West. Five days of talks resulted in almost no progress, and a suspension was announced on 3rd December so that each delegation could return to consult its government, before the announcement of a possible resumption on 8 December... The Europeans, in particular, denounced a “backtracking” by Iran, which they suspect of playing for time in order to continue its enrichment programme: “The various parties had left in June with the hope of an imminent conclusion, but the arrival in power in Iran of the ultraconservative president Ebrahim Raissi has changed the deal”, writes Le Monde. The new negotiators have in fact called into question almost 90% of what had been concluded during the discussions between the Biden administration and the outgoing Iranian government. The sessions are also complicated by the fact that, at the request of the Iranian representatives, the discussions with the Americans are indirect: the Iranian, French, German, British, Russian and Chinese diplomats – in short, those of the countries that have not denounced the agreement – are in one hotel, the American delegation in another; messages are passed from one hotel to the other.
After some technical progress was finally achieved, in particular the drafting of a joint document on the nuclear issue and on sanctions, the Iranian delegation asked for a further break on the 17th. The talks finally resumed on the 27th, while the West fears that any further delay would render any agreement obsolete in view of the rapid progress of the Iranian nuclear programme, especially in terms of uranium enrichment... (Le Figaro). On the 30th, in the midst of the talks, Tehran announced that its Simorgh satellite launcher had sent three “research instruments” into space, fuelling Western suspicions that the regime is seeking to acquire long-range ballistic launchers, a development forbidden by Security Council Resolution 2231. On the 24th, Iran had already fired several ballistic missiles, and in April 2020, the Revolutionary Guards had launched their first military satellite... On the 31st, Paris condemned the launch, while Washington expressed its “concern”.
At almost the same time, on the 27th, the human rights organisation HRANA (Human Rights Activists News Agency) published its 2021 report on human rights violations in Iran (https://www.en-hrana.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/HRA-Annual-Report-2021-English.pdf). The 53-page document, which covers the period from January1st to 20 December 2021, gathers data collected by HRANA (38%); 24% of the information comes from other human rights news agencies, and 38% of the reports come from the Iranian government itself or from close sources. The document includes statistics and graphs on the rights of women, children, prisoners, etc.
Among the abuses mentioned in the report was the shooting by the regime’s security forces of 36 Kurdish cross-border porters, the kolbars, and 109 wounded. After one was shot and two wounded near Baneh on 30 November, December continued the terrible litany, with a third wounded in Sardasht on 2nd December, and a fourth killed near the border in Qasr-e Shirin on the 3rd... (Kurdpa) Two more were wounded near Nowsud on the 7th and 9th respectively, and on the 12th the Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) ambushed a group, wounding 2 members, near the Qandil Mountains in Kurdistan, Iraq. In addition, two people were injured by mines from the Iran-Iraq war in Qasr-e Shirin and Dehloran (Elam) (WKI). Finally, on 29 December, a 10-year-old shepherd from a herding community was seriously injured in the chest by a mine in Dehloran when one of the animals triggered the explosion. The child died in hospital. Far from demining its borders, the regime still uses these devices dating from the Iran-Iraq war to “secure” them, with total disregard for the lives of its own citizens – it has been known for a long time, and the regime cannot ignore it, that unexploded mines mainly hit women and children... (HRANA).
In the wake of the election to the presidency of the ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi, known for his participation in the mass assassinations of political prisoners in the 1980s, the authorities have further increased their pressure on the Kurdish community in Iran, with arrests, convictions and sometimes executions... In the first week of the month, they arrested at least ten people throughout Kurdistan, including the activist Chinei Sharifi, in Bokan. On the 5th, the security forces arrested and held incommunicado two residents of Nyar village (Sanandaj), Saadi Menbari and Siamak Arang, and searched their houses (according to KHRN, 5 members of the Menbari family were arrested). The charges against them were not disclosed (Kurdpa). On the same day (but KHRN published the information only on the 9th), two other Kurdish civilians, Mohammad Fadavi and Rahmatollah Salehian, were arrested in the village of Malqarani (Saqqez). On the 8th, two residents of the village of Nyar (Marivan), were arrested and held incommunicado, without any indication of the charges against them (Kurdpa). Other Kurds were arrested in Ouroumieh, Qotur and Oshnavieh. According to the KHRN, these arrests are part of several successive waves of arrests particularly affecting the Iranian province of Kordestan (Persian name), during which the homes of the people targeted are searched and the people are held incommunicado in an illegal manner, since no official warrant is shown... Since the beginning of November, 38 people have been arrested, including 12 members of the Pezeshki family
In addition, Qassim Azizian, a Kurdish activist from Mahabad sentenced to 28 months imprisonment for “belonging to a Kurdish opposition party”, started his sentence on the beginning of the month (WKI), and on the 8th, two residents of Mahabad, Amir Bayazidi Azar and Ghasem Azizian, were summoned to serve their prison sentences, respectively 3 months for “propaganda against the regime” and 28 months for “belonging to an opposition party”, sentences confirmed on appeal.
On the 12th, Etelaat (Intelligence) agents raided the home of Kurdish activist and environmentalist Kajal Nasri in Tangesar (Sanandaj), arrested her and put her in solitary confinement. Her situation was still unknown on the 21st. In addition, security forces arrested many other Kurds, including environmental activist Farhang Ozairi, as well as others in Marivan and Mahabad, while 19 people arrested in November in Baneh remained in prison (WKI). On the same day, according to HRANA, some 47 political prisoners in Urmia prison went on hunger strike. They demanded the cancellation of the prison director’s order to transfer them to a new high-security ward with insufficient space and poor equipment. On the 22nd, after 10 days, they were still on strike...
But the month was particularly marked by the execution, carried out in secret on the 19th in Sanandaj, of Heidar Ghorbani, immediately denounced from Oslo by the Iran Human Rights organisation. The IRNA agency confirmed the execution, describing Ghorbani as a “terrorist” and a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI). UN human rights experts, as well as Amnesty International, had urged Iran to overturn his death sentence due to “serious concerns” about the lack of a fair trial and torture in custody. Sentenced to death in 2020 for allegedly providing logistical support in 2016 to the killers of three members of the Bassij, the paramilitary wing of the Revolutionary Guards, Ghorbani had been in prison since October 2016. The Iranian judiciary has acknowledged that he never carried arms. “Heidar Ghorbani’s case was so tainted by anomalies and the absence of any credible evidence that the horror of his execution is all the greater”, Raha Bahraini, an Amnesty International researcher on Iran, told AFP. “Human rights groups say his conviction was based on dubious evidence obtained under torture and that he was allegedly denied a lawyer during the investigation”, the BBC said, adding that the defendant “denied any link to the killings”. The execution was not reported in the local media, but drew strong reactions on social networks. In Ghorbani’s hometown, Kamyaran, a crowd gathered on the day of his execution to pay tribute to him, chanting “Martyrs do not die” (AFP).
The horror of the execution is further compounded by the treatment of the condemned man’s family. The authorities made them believe that their loved one was going to be “transferred” to a prison in Tehran and invited them to visit him before his departure. When they arrived, the agents took Ghorbani’s relatives to the main cemetery in Sanandaj and showed them his grave. “They buried him themselves in Beheshte Mohammadi cemetery and did not return his body to us”, a relative told Iran Human Rights. The “Center for Cooperation of Political Parties of Iranian Kurdistan” (CCIKP) said that the regime had used “baseless accusations” to execute Ghorbani and thus intimidate other activists. Four Kurds from Sanandaj who had organised a funeral ceremony for Heydar Ghorbani were arrested (WKI), and on the 24th, the Sunni Imam Mohammad-Mirza Rahmani, who had spoken at the ceremony, was also arrested and held incommunicado. On the 27th, another Kamyaran resident, Kianush Rahmani, who had posted a photo of Haydar Ghorbani on social media, was also arrested in a raid on his home (HRANA).
On 21 September, also in Kamyaran, environmental activist Amanj Ghorbani was arrested while attending a security summons. The reasons for his arrest were not disclosed. He had previously been arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 3 months in prison. On the 26th, two residents of Kuyik (Naghadeh), Sarhang Alizadeh and Farzin Abdollahzadeh, were arrested on charges of “collaboration with an opposition party” and held incommunicado (HRANA). On the 29th, former political prisoner Shirko Agoshi, from Pîranshahr, and Hossein Alvand-Kûhi, from Mahabad, both accused of having participated in armed clashes against the Pasdaran, were sentenced in Mahabad to 10 years in prison for “belonging to a banned Kurdish opposition party”.
Exile from the country is not enough to protect dissidents from political assassinations perpetrated by the regime’s agents. The latter do not hesitate to hunt down and execute them according to orders received from Tehran, in operations organised according to a precise and now well reconstructed protocol (see “Iran’s Two-Man ‘Hit Teams’” framed section, https://www.rferl.org/a/iran-farrokhzad-chain-murders-investigation-farda/31545582.html). In early December, Rashad Minbary, a PDKI member exiled in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, testified that on 28 November he was the victim of an assassination attempt by gunmen who opened fire on his flat. Minbary accused the Iranian authorities of sending them. His brother Shoresh, a Peshmerga commander, had already been killed in 2016.
The regime also uses cyber-attacks and disinformation. For example, the PDKI website was recently targeted by sabotage attempts, and on 7 July, the Hengaw organisation, a major source of information on the regime’s abuses, published a statement on its website accusing Etelaat of having created a website in Kurdish and Persian using its name and logo for propaganda purposes (WKI).
On 13 December, the HDP Women’s Assembly issued a statement beginning with the words: “Under the AKP government, almost all Turkish institutions, and especially prisons, are committing crimes and disregarding both the law and human dignity. Turkish prisons have become centers of torture and ill-treatment. These inhumane practices, especially when applied to political prisoners, deeply affect the human conscience. One particularly distressing and worrying example is the death, on 9 December, of Kurdish political prisoner, Ms Garibe Gezer, in the Kandıra High Security Prison” in Kocaeli.
Earlier the same day, the prison authorities had contacted Garibe Gezer’s lawyers and sister to announce her “suicide” in solitary confinement. But according to lawyer Eren Keskin, it is impossible for a prisoner to commit suicide in solitary confinement. When she received the phone call informing her of her younger sister’s “suicide”, Asya Gezer immediately replied that she did not believe it and that she would file a criminal complaint against the administration.
The prisoner’s family and the victim herself had repeatedly tried to warn the public about the threat to her life. On 8 October, Gezer had announced that she had been tortured and sexually abused by her guards in a padded cell. Eren Keskin filed a criminal complaint against the guards and the prison doctor. Perhaps even more outrageous than the murder itself is the fact that none of these steps ultimately protected the prisoner. Although the facts were revealed, no investigation was launched, the judicial system took no action whatsoever, and the impunity of the torturers remained total.
The facts were already known on 8 October and are described in an article published on Bianet (https://bianet.org/5/97/251552-sexual-assault-and-torture-against-wom), from which they are taken up almost identically in the HDP statement mentioned above, a summarised version of which is given below.
As soon as she was transferred from Kayseri to Kandıra on 15 March 2021, Garibe Gezer was placed in solitary confinement for 22 days. She was then transferred, at her request, to a three-person cell, but on 21 May she was told that she had to return to solitary confinement. When she refused, female guards took her by force, dragging her to the floor and holding her by the hair and arms. They removed her trousers before voluntarily passing her in front of male guards. When she started to bang on her cell door, the guards came in and beat her. They warned her that if she continued, they would put her in a padded cell. On 24 May, eight guards came to her cell and beat her again, before carrying out their threat. At the cell door, she was stripped, searched and sexually assaulted. In the infirmary, where she was denied medical treatment, she was also abused. She was taken back to an isolation cell and tried to take her own life.
In the petition she submitted to the General Prosecutor’s Office of Kandıra Prison, Keskin describes the cell used to confine the young woman: “My client stated that the [...] ‘padded cell’ was a two to three meter long place, completely covered with foam, [and] monitored by a 24-hour camera. There was excrement all over the room, the smell of urine and excrement was unbearable, the only toilet in the room was a hole, which was visible from the camera”... On 7 June, Gezer tried to set fire to her cell and was again thrown into a padded cell for 24 hours. [...] Some of her letters [to her lawyers and family] were censored and others were not forwarded at all.
Although these complaints and allegations have been known for some time, no investigation has been opened by the prosecutor’s office and no action has been taken against those responsible. On 27 October, 22 HDP deputies brought Garibe Gezer’s case to the Parliament and demanded an investigation, once again without success. The primary responsibility for the death of the prisoner lies with the AKP government, which has in fact made torture and ill-treatment in Turkish prisons normal. The government’s policy is simply to cover up, and even encourage, crimes committed in the institutions that operate under its control.
The statement ends with a call to the international community, all democrats, and in particular women’s organisations, to raise their voices against the inhumane practices and crimes committed in Turkish prisons.
As soon as Eren Keskin and the other lawyers were informed of Gezer’s death, they went to the prison to meet with the administration and obtain the camera footage of the moment of her death. However, by the time they arrived, the body had already been transferred to the Forensic Medicine Institute in Kocaeli and the autopsy conducted without the presence of the lawyers. The preliminary autopsy report did not even indicate the cause of death. “Even in the 1990s, such a thing could not happen”, said Keskin.
After Gezer’s suspicious death, the prison administration announced on the 20th that another Kurdish prisoner, Vedat Erkmen, a lifer incarcerated in Tekirdağ prison, had “committed suicide”. His family immediately rejected the government’s claim of suicide, wondering how Erkmen could have obtained a rope while in solitary confinement. When the family of the deceased prisoner and lawyers from the Human Rights Association (İHD) and the Lawyers’ Association for Freedom (ÖHD) arrived at the prison, exactly as in the case of Garibe Gezer, they learned that Erkmen’s autopsy procedures had already been carried out. Vedat’s funeral was held under the surveillance of a large police contingent, who obviously feared an explosion of protests.
Gürkan Isteli, a member of the prison committee of the Istanbul branch of ÖHD, wrote on social networks: “What are they hiding from whom? We have been going back and forth between the prison, the courthouse and the hospital for hours. The prison rejected all our requests to see the body. A few hours later, we were able to reach the prosecutor’s office on duty, and were finally able to identify the body. […] Our client, Vedat Erkmen, was moved from his cell to an isolation cell a few days ago. The reason for this transfer is that he was not safe. We believe that he was murdered. Why would Vedat, who was moved from his cell for security reasons, commit suicide?”
In either case, the prison administration is clearly preparing to continue its cover-up to ensure impunity for the killers.
In addition, the prison administration continues to deny sick prisoners medical releases. This is the case this month in particular with Aysel Tuğluk, who was arrested in December 2016 when she was the HDP’s deputy chairwoman and is still being held in Kandıra prison. She is also among the 108 defendants in the “Kobanê Trial”. Tuğluk is now having difficulty speaking and is starting to not recognise people. In March, Kocaeli University diagnosed her with dementia and said in a report that she could no longer remain alone in prison. But the Istanbul Institute of Forensic Medicine (ATK) issued a contradictory report in September, and the court rejected requests for her release. According to her brother, Alaattin Tuğluk, the university had prepared its report after six months of regular examinations, while the ATK “only saw her for two hours, in one day”...
Deprived of their own state, deprived of a future, persecuted by the states that occupy their country, the Kurds continue to migrate to Western Europe in search of freedom and a better life. There are now at least 1.5 million of them in Western European countries, including about 300,000 in France and over 800,000 in Germany. Often arriving in the most destitute conditions, they struggle to integrate as quickly as possible into their host country by working hard and pushing their children to study. And these efforts are beginning to bear fruit.
Thus, it was learned on 31 December that a young woman from the emblematic province of Dersim, one of the hotbeds of Kurdish resistance to the oppressive Turkish regime, would become Dutch Minister of Justice in the new Rutte cabinet. Reliable sources have confirmed this information after initial reports from De Telegraaf newspaper. The future minister is called Dilan Yesilgoz. After having been a member of parliament and spokesperson for the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), she served in the previous cabinet as State Secretary for Economic Affairs and Climate Policy. At 44 years of age, after a remarkable career, she now holds a sovereign ministry. Her first name Dilan, ancient and common in Kurdistan, meaning collective joy, jubilation, and also a dancing party, expresses a state of mind of approaching life with optimism and joy in spite of many obstacles and misfortunes.
Another young woman, Zuhal Demir, also from Dersim, is currently Minister of Justice and Environment of Flanders.
In the UK, the former Minister for Immunisation, Nadhim Zahaoui, an Iraqi Kurd, was promoted to Minister for Education.
In Germany, a “Peshmerga girl” from Iraqi Kurdistan, Reem Alabali-Radovan, of Assyrian-Chaldean origin, a member of the Social Democratic Party, has been appointed State Secretary for Migration, Refugees and Integration in the new German coalition government.
Many Kurds are currently serving as members of national parliaments in several European countries. These widely publicised success stories serve as role models for ambitious young Kurds in the diaspora. They also inspire young people from Kurdistan who often take considerable risks to reach the haven of peace, prosperity and opportunity that Europe represents for them.
In pursuit of this dream, some fifteen of them died when their makeshift boat sank in the stormy waters of the English Channel in late 2021. Others perished in the icy forests of the Polish-Belarusian border. These tragedies did not prevent other young Kurds from attempting the adventure. This will continue as long as they cannot live free and in peace in their currently martyred country.
It was reported in early December that the Frankfurt Regional High Court in Germany had sentenced an Iraqi ISIS terrorist to life imprisonment for “genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and complicity in war crimes” against the Kurdish-speaking Yezidi minority. Taha Al-Jumaili had participated in the genocide in particular by leaving a child to die of thirst. This life sentence is the first in the world for crimes committed during the Yezidi genocide. Last October, al-Jumaili’s wife, Jennifer Wenisch, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the same crime.
The Iraqi, who joined the ranks of ISIS in 2013, was convicted of leaving a five-year-old Yezidi girl he had “bought as a slave” together with her mother to die of thirst in the summer of 2015 in Falluja, Iraq.
“This is a very important step and a message of hope for Yezidi victims and victims of genocide in general. It shows that justice can be done, even if it is not where the crimes were committed. It is important for the victims to have access to justice, beyond the symbolic recognition of genocide: they want to be able to look their attackers in the eye”, said Natia Navrouzov, a lawyer and member of the NGO Yazda, which gathers evidence of the crimes committed by ISIS against the Yezidis (Le Monde).