B u l l e t i n

c o m p l e t

Bulletin N° 444 | March 2022



For the first time in months, clashes between Damascus regime soldiers and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters took place on 1st of March, leaving two people dead on each side. The last clashes took place in towns administered by the Autonomous Administration of North-East Syria (AANES), dominated by the PYD Kurds, where the regime retains control of certain neighbourhoods, such as Qamishli or Hasakah. Nothing of the kind in the new clashes, it seems, which took place according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) in the suburbs of the Christian town of Tell Tamr. According to the official Syrian news agency SANA, the fighting started when soldiers at a checkpoint refused passage to SDF fighters accompanied by US troops. During the 2019 Turkish attack, to prevent Ankara’s military from advancing further, AANES had accepted the entry of regime troops and their Russian allies into its territory, while the US is present alongside the SDF as part of the anti-ISIS coalition...

One may wonder if this incident does not reflect the growing confidence of the military in Damascus while internationally, and particularly on the Arab diplomatic scene, Bashar Al-Assad is gradually moving from the status of pariah to that of a leader again legitimate... As a symbol of this rehabilitation, in his first visit to an Arab country since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011, the master of Damascus was received “fraternally” on the 18th by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Ben Zayed (“MBZ”). State Department spokesman Ned Price regretted the visit, saying: “We urge states considering a rapprochement with the Assad regime to think carefully about the atrocities committed by that regime against Syrians over the past decade”. In Abu Dhabi, “MBZ” and Assad insisted on “the preservation of Syria’s territorial integrity and the withdrawal of foreign forces”, a barely disguised reference to the AANES and the US military – even if the Emirates are more concerned about the Iranian presence in the country... (Le Monde).

On 15 March, on the 11th anniversary of the uprising, the Syrian Democratic Council, the political wing of the SDF, issued a statement denouncing the Assad regime for the “killing, displacement and destruction” that has engulfed the country since then and accusing it of “rejecting all initiatives for internal dialogue aimed at finding a solution” (WKI).

Besides, other foreign forces on Syrian soil, the Turkish military, have continued their relentless harassment of AANES-administered territories this month. Two ceasefire agreements concluded separately by Ankara with the United States and Russia in October 2019 were supposed to put an end to these aggressions... At the beginning of March, artillery fire launched from the Turkish-controlled “Euphrates Shield” zone targeted villages in northern Aleppo province where Kurdish fighters and regime soldiers are deployed. On the 5th, Turkish-Kurdish exchanges of heavy weapons fire took place near Azaz, with no casualties. On the 11th, in Al-Hesha, near Ain-Issa (north of Raqqa), 3 children aged 10 to 15 were seriously injured by Turkish rockets. The village had already been hit in mid-January when a water treatment plant was targeted. On 16 January, the so-called “Syrian National Army”, mercenaries of Ankara, bombed several villages near Tell Tamr, north of Hasakah, while a Turkish drone attacked a military vehicle near Houshan (east of Ain Issa), causing material damage. The same area of Houshan was also targeted by Turkish artillery. On 18 March, reliable sources told SOHR that Turkish and proxy bombing had damaged the electricity network near Tell Tamr, causing power cuts.

On the 23rd, the Turkish army had to intervene to put an end to the deadly clashes that had been going on for almost a week between several factions of the “Syrian National Army” in Ras Al-Ain/Serê Kaniyê and its region... These recurrent internal conflicts concern the sharing of the looting of Kurdish villages and the profits from smuggling (fuel or foodstuffs, even people) to and from Turkey. On the same day, the SOHR reported fighting between SDF and Syrian factions north of Ain Issa, whose area near the strategic M4 highway was again targeted by artillery on the 25th and until the end of the month, without any casualties being reported.

On the other hand, the jihadist factions that control the Afrin region on behalf of Ankara continue their war crimes there. They kidnap civilians for ransom, engage in smuggling, sometimes drug trafficking, arbitrarily arrest residents for “relations with the former administration” – another way of obtaining ransom – physically attack, torture or murder... Even archaeological sites registered with the Syrian Ministry of Culture are preyed upon, such as Zontry, near Sharran, on the outskirts of the city of Afrin, or those of Basarqah or Khazyan (Ma’batli), where they have brought construction machinery and dig to find artefacts for resale, thus totally destroying the different archaeological levels. They also continue to cut down the olive and fruit trees that once were the wealth and beauty of this region...

Without being able to list all the abuses committed this month, reported in particular on the SOHR website, we mention a few. On the 19th, the “military police”, accompanied by members of the Turkish intelligence services, arrested two Afrin civilians in their homes, without any charges being laid against them. In the village of Jiman (Shiran), members of a jihadist faction kidnapped an 18-year-old girl and demanded a ransom of US$ 20,000 from her parents. The father had already been kidnapped six months earlier. On the 21st, a civilian entering Afrin was arrested at a checkpoint for “participation in the Newrouz festival”. On the 25th, two other people were arrested in Afrin for “relations with the former administration” (SOHR). On the 28th, unfortunately, further proof of the occupiers’ disregard for human life was provided by a dramatic event, when “a group of mercenaries named al-Hamazat, belonging to the Turkish occupation forces, opened machine gun fire on a school in the village of Mirkan, in [the occupied region of] Afrin” (Hawar Agency - ANHA). The jihadists were looking for a teacher at the school who had punished the child of one of them, and were angry that they did not find him there (Rûdaw). On the 29th, the SOHR reported that a displaced girl was killed near Afrin by a Turkish armoured vehicle that did not even stop after hitting her. Another vehicle of the occupants also continued without stopping after injuring 3 civilians in their own vehicle near Azaz (SOHR).

The Iraqi Kurdish news channel Rûdaw and the SOHR have both reported on the abuses suffered by the Afrin area in four years of occupation in several articles. The death toll stands at nearly 650, plus 7,500 abductions and 2,300 other violations against residents, of whom 1,300 are still imprisoned...

On the 18th, the sad fourth anniversary of the fall of Afrin to the Turks and their jihadist mercenaries, thousands of Kurds gathered to protest against the Turkish invasion and occupation of the region. In Afrin itself, several shopkeepers defied the occupiers by lowering their curtains. SDF General Commander Mazloum Abdi denounced the silence of the international community for ignoring its “responsibilities towards the people of Afrin”, adding: “Ending the Turkish occupation and facilitating the safe return of the people of Afrin to their homes and lands is our cause and responsibility” (WKI).

On the other hand, ISIS jihadists are still active... On the 6th, the Asayish (Kurdish Security) of the Al-Hol camp, near Hassaké, foiled a plan to break out the wives of members of the organisation who are held there. They succeeded in arresting the jihadists near the camp. The latter had coordinated with jihadist cells still active in the Syrian desert. The same evening, four tents in the camp burned down. According to the security services, this was an attempt to assassinate a woman from the camp who works with humanitarian organisations present there (SOHR). On the 19th, also in Al-Hol, the SDF and the Asayish announced that they had arrested several members of ISIS in the camp in a major security operation. The exact number of arrests was not given. The operation was triggered after two women escaped the day before. Despite numerous calls from the Kurdish authorities and the United States for countries of origin to repatriate their nationals interned in AANES-run camps, departures have been slow. On the 16th, four Swedish nationals left Al-Hol (Rûdaw).

On the 23rd, on the third anniversary of the military defeat of ISIS in its last retreat in the village of Baghouz, the SDF warned for the n-th time the international community against the consequences of its “inaction” in the face of the attempts of the jihadists to re-emerge: “The inaction of the international community, the fact that some countries have turned their backs on this issue [..] provides ISIS with an opportunity to strengthen itself”…The massive and deadly attack on the Hassaké prison launched at the end of January by hundreds of members of the terrorist group should have prompted Western countries to react and repatriate their nationals. They remain silent and they do not respond to the demands of the Kurdish authorities to set up an international tribunal to judge the jihadists held in Syria... (AFP)

Finally, an explosion of as yet unknown origin killed at least 5 people and injured 10 others on the morning of the 30th in the district of Shehba. It was a building that exploded in Ehdas (Kurdistan au Féminin).


The month of March was marked in Iraqi Kurdistan by a strike on its capital, Erbil, by twelve ballistic missiles fired on the 13th from neighbouring Iran. The missiles, which hit areas near the US consulate, caused only material damage.

The local television station Kurdistan-24, whose studios are located not far from the new US consulate premises, posted images on social networks of its damaged offices, with collapsed sections of the false ceiling and broken glass. Kurdistan’s Prime Minister Masrour Barzani said in a statement: “We condemn this terrorist attack on several areas of Erbil, and we call on the people to remain calm”. The attack on Erbil comes almost a week after the death in Syria of two senior members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran), killed in an attack blamed on Israel, and for which the Pasdaran had promised to “make the Zionist regime pay” (AFP). This attack comes just after the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear issue, which were close to a conclusion, were interrupted on 11 November, due to new Russian demands following the war in Ukraine.

The Iranian pasdaran quickly claimed responsibility for the strikes, saying they had targeted an Israeli “strategic centre” in response to “recent crimes by the Zionist regime”, and threatening Israel with further “destructive” retaliation. The missiles were in fact aimed at the residence of Baz Karim Barzinji, head of the KAR group, the largest energy company in the Kurdistan region. It was hit by at least 4 of them.

The Prime Minister of Kurdistan denounced the attack in a strongly worded statement: “The cowardly attack in Erbil on 13 March 2022, allegedly under the pretext of striking an Israeli base near the US consulate in Erbil, targeted civilian places and its justification only serves to hide the shameful nature of such a crime”. The governor of Erbil, Omid Khochnaw, denied any Israeli presence in the region, calling Tehran’s allegations “baseless”. The US State Department also condemned the attack as an “outrageous violation of Iraq’s sovereignty”, expressed its support for the Kurdistan government and called on Iran to “end its interference in Iraq’s internal affairs”. The Iraqi Foreign Ministry, denouncing the flagrant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty”, summoned the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad, Iraj Masjedi, to communicate the government’s protests. France and the European Union also condemned the attack.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told CBS that the US could provide Iraq and the Kurdistan Region with “missile defence capabilities so they can defend themselves in their cities”. The US State Department also told the Kurdish channel Rûdaw that it did not believe the US consulate was the target.

In stark contrast to the international condemnations, in Iran, the ultraconservative daily Kayhan celebrated the “slap in the face of the Zionists” on its front page, repeating the official justification: “two Israeli centres have been destroyed in Erbil”.

On the 14th, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and several Kurdish officials visited the site of the attack, while in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Said Khatibzadeh warned at his weekly press conference that Iran would not tolerate “the presence near its borders of a centre of sabotage, plotting and dispatching of terrorist groups” targeting the Islamic Republic. The Iranian ambassador in Baghdad promised further attacks on Erbil if “three more Mossad [Israeli secret service] centres are not closed”.

After a phone call from Moqtada Sadr to the KDP leader Massoud Barzani, the Baghdad parliament set up a commission to investigate the attack. On the 17th, Rebar Ahmed, the Interior Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), presented a report on the attack to the Iraqi parliament in a special session and called for a “full investigation” by Iraq, the Arab states and the international community “with the participation of Iran” (WKI). On the morning of the 20th, the parliamentary enquiry committee visited the site of the strikes under the leadership of Iraqi security advisor Qasim al-Araji (Rûdaw).

On the 29th, the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region, Masrour Barzani, said from Dubai, where he had come to take part in the “Global Energy Forum” and then the “World Summit Government 2022”, that the attack was aimed at undermining the development of the energy sector in Iraqi Kurdistan, at a time when the war situation in Ukraine was likely to cause shortages in this very sector. He added: “It is not only rockets that they are trying to stop us with, they are also manipulating the institutions”, referring to the recent decision of the Iraqi Supreme Court to invalidate the KRG’s oil and gas law (Kurdistan-24).

In this respect, the decision of the Supreme Court of Baghdad, which declares illegal all contracts signed by Kurdistan with foreign firms, has had an unexpected consequence. Theoretically, it also invalidates the contract by which the “federal” oil of Kirkuk, i.e. 100,000 barrels/day, is exported to Turkey by SOMO, the Iraqi national organisation for the marketing of oil! The oil passes through the pipeline crossing Kurdistan, 60% of which belongs to the Russian company Rosneft... In February, according to SOMO figures, nearly 1.5 million barrels used this pipeline to arrive at the Ceyhan terminal, bringing an average price of US$ 96.93 per barrel, hence around US$ 143 million to the country...

On the 30th, the US Treasury Department announced the swift imposition of sanctions against Iran for the missile attack on Erbil, as well as the Tehran-backed Houthis in Yemen attacking an Aramco site in Saudi Arabia (Kurdistan-24).

In other news, Iraq is still looking for its next government – and first of all its next president, who alone can appoint a Prime minister...

On 1st of March, the Iraqi Supreme Court rejected the request of the Speaker of Parliament Mohammed al-Halbousi to reopen the registration of several presidential candidates, arguing that the Constitution does not grant this power to the Speaker of Parliament. However, it indicated that an extension could be voted by parliament. On the 5th, the coalition gathered around Moqtada Sadr, Sayrûn-Taqaddum-PDK was thus able to obtain a three-day extension. The KDP and the PUK are still fighting over their respective presidential candidates, the PUK hoping for the re-election of Barham Salih, the KDP opposing to him Rebar Ahmed, now also supported by Sadr. On the other hand, if the “Sadr coalition” wanted to reappoint Mustafa al-Qadhimi as Prime Minister, the group of pro-Iranian parties would favour Haidar al-Abadi (WKI). On the 23rd, however, the alliance chose Sadr’s cousin and brother-in-law Jaafar, currently Iraq’s ambassador to the UK, for the post of Prime minister. The son of the revered Shiite leader Sayed Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr, Jaafar has been described as a moderate with no political affiliation (Rûdaw).

In the middle of the month, the parliament set the session to appoint the Iraqi President for the 26th. Sadr called on all MPs to take part, especially those who are not members of his coalition or the pro-Iranian group. Parliament published a final list of 40 candidates for the post. However, on the 26th, the vote had to be cancelled due to the lack of the required two-thirds quorum (219 present), with only 202 present out of 329. This was the second cancellation; the first attempt on 7 February had already had to be cancelled because it was widely boycotted in the context of the Supreme Court’s invalidation of Hoshyar Zebari’s candidacy... (Al-Monitor) For the next session, set for the 30th , the score was even worse: only 178 present out of 329. As in the two previous sessions, the representatives of the pro-Iranian Shiite parties of the “Coordination Framework” were absent. This time, the Assembly adjourned its session without even proposing a new date. However, according to the Federal Court, the deputies have until 6 April to elect the President. Beyond that date, the Constitution is silent (Le Figaro)...

While their leaders are involved in the negotiations to appoint the future government of the country, the Kurds continue to face numerous discriminations in the territories whose administration is disputed between Baghdad and Erbil.

In particular, evictions of Kurds from their lands continue. For example, earlier this month, the Iraqi Ministry of Defence ordered the eviction of 150 Kurdish families from Kirkuk in favour of former Ba’thist officers who, after 17 years on the run, returned to claim the homes that had been allocated to them after the expulsion of the Kurds and taken away from them in 2003... The following week, the Kirkuk court ordered the confiscation of 3,000 donums from Kurdish farmers in Daquq in favour of Arab settlers. In addition, leaks from the Kirkuk provincial administration revealed that the identity cards of 100-200 families from the Hawija district and its villages had been transferred to the city of Kirkuk, in order to increase the Arab population in the province. A similar operation was revealed in Khanaqin, where the Ministry of Interior transferred between 2020 and 2022 the cards of dozens of non-Kurdish families from the districts of Baqouba and Khales. At the same time, dozens of Kurdish families in Khanaqin who were forced to flee when the federal authorities took control in October 2019 were denied the renewal of their residence cards...

On the 10th, Kurdish National Dress Day, the President of Kirkuk University, Omran Jamal Hassan, who is also the deputy leader of the pro-Iranian Badr militia in the province, had students in Kurdish clothing banned from entering the campus. In Tuz Khurmatu, out of 71 newly recruited policemen, only 7 are Kurds, the overwhelming majority being Turkmen (Shiites) and Arabs (Sunnis). In Kirkuk, raising the flag of Kurdistan (although it is constitutionally recognised) remains forbidden, and the city’s brand new court, inaugurated at the end of March by the President of the Judicial Council, Faiq Zaida, in the presence of the governor, bears no indication in Kurdish, being signposted exclusively in Arabic. In another example of discrimination, in order to build a road, the Kirkuk administration plans to demolish 2,000 houses of families from the Kurdish Kakai minority in the Asra district, claiming that they were built “illegally”. Furthermore, it refuses to compensate the families.

On the other hand, popular protests forced the interim governor of Kirkuk, Rakan al-Jabouri, to reverse his decision to restrict the Nowrouz festivities on the 21st to only three hours. The protests also forced the President of Kirkuk University, after an initial refusal, to allow the commemoration of the Halabja genocide.

At the end of the month, two Kurdish deputies from Khanaqin sent a memorandum to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior asking for a halt to the continuous transfer of Arab residents to the city. They simply ask for the respect of the constitution, with a pause until the implementation of its article 140. Meanwhile, a Kurdish official from Khanaqin called for the return to twenty villages in the district of Kurds displaced since 2017: although the area has been liberated from ISIS, the lack of security and basic services prevents them from returning.

Although the number of attacks by ISIS has been decreasing for some time, the danger is still real. The proof is the memorandum dated 2 March sent by the Iraqi army’s Chief of General Staff, Abdel Emir Yarallah, to the Iraqi Ministry of Defence, requesting the transfer of 3,693 peshmerga from the 20th division to federal command. According to the Baghdad-Erbil agreement concluded several months ago, they are supposed to be part of a joint Iraqi-Kurdish “second” division to be deployed in the disputed territories, but the creation of the joint units still seems to come up against the problem of financing...

Kirkuk province has seen several jihadist attacks this month, including 3 on the 8th alone, where 2 police officers were injured and 1 terrorist killed. The next day, 3 members of a suicide commando from Syria were arrested in the city thanks to cooperation with Kurdish security forces. On the 11th, an air strike eliminated 4 jihadists near Dibis. On the 14th, an attack near the Rashad district killed 1 federal policeman and injured 3 others. Another attack on the 19th targeted the police station in the village of Yangija in Tuz Khurmatu. Then on the 20th, police officers were again attacked in the Zeghaiton and Rokhana valleys, with 2 seriously injured. A new attack on Rokhana on the 26th led to clashes lasting several hours in which 2 Iraqi soldiers were killed. On the 21st, one soldier was killed and another wounded in an attack near Daquq. Other attacks targeted police officers in Khanaqin. While the Kurdish Security (Asayish) is still forbidden to carry weapons in the city, some Kurdish officials have suggested their transfer to the Federal Security... Finally, on the 27th, the special forces of the Peshmerga were able to put on the run 5 jihadists on motorbikes who were trying to kidnap 3 shepherds near the Ghara valley.

In Sinjar (Shingal), the situation remains catastrophic, and a large part of the Yezidi inhabitants of the district do not want to return. The 2020 security agreement between Baghdad and Erbil has still not been implemented. A meeting held on 28 February between the mayor and representatives of Baghdad and the United Nations set the goal of full implementation by mid-2022. By then, all security forces should be relocated outside the city. On the 16th, the military command of Nineveh province imposed an indefinite night-time curfew on the district, as tension increased between the Iraqi army and the Sinjar Protection Units (YBŞ) after unknown persons threw sound grenades at a military checkpoint on the 11th. Iraqi troops, who accuse the YBŞ of being the perpetrators of the attack, have reiterated their demand that the armed group leave Sinjar. At the end of the month, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said it would sponsor a major conference on the Yezidi genocide, organised locally by several Yezidi organisations, to be held in May.

Finally, the war in Ukraine has begun to have an effect on Kurdistan by causing price increases for flour, oil and steel, some of which is imported from Russia and Ukraine. However, several KRG ministers assured that Kurdistan is not at risk of a wheat shortage.


Moscow’s invasion of and war in Ukraine on 24 February poses many problems for the Turkish government. First, there are economic problems. Turkey is very dependent on Russian wheat: in 2020-2021, 78% of Turkish wheat imports came from Russia, and 9% from Ukraine. What is worse is that this is a recent dependency, largely due to the destruction in the 1990s of 3,400 Kurdish villages and the agro-pastoral economy of Kurdistan, which supplied Turkey with cereals and meat...The war has considerably reduced Turkish trade with Russia and Ukraine. Already facing annual inflation of more than 60%, Turkish consumers risk having to pay even more for bread, flour and pasta (France Info). The Russian company Gazprom also supplies Turkey with 34% of its gas and 10% of its oil. Since the beginning of the conflict, the Turkish lira, which had already plunged by 45% in 2021, has fallen by another 5% (Le Monde).

Finally, the Turkish tourist sector, already hard hit by two years of pandemic, cannot do without Russian tourists, who were 4.21 million in 2021 (compared to 3 million Germans and... 2.6 million Ukrainians). Unlike its NATO allies, Ankara has not imposed sanctions on Moscow, and in particular has not banned Russian planes from its airspace... and you can still see oligarchs’ yachts in the marinas of Istanbul.

Beyond the economic consequences, the Russian-Ukrainian war places Ankara in a difficult geopolitical situation. Turkey indeed has good relations with Kiev, to which it supplied Bayraktar drones that proved to be very effective against the Russian army (on the 2nd, Ukraine indicated that it was expecting a new delivery), but it is also very vulnerable to Russia in Syria, especially in the Idlib region... Mr. Erdoğan therefore condemned the Russian invasion, calling it “unacceptable”, but Turkey waited five days before announcing, on 28 February, and at Kiev’s insistence, that in application of the Montreux Convention (1936), it was prohibiting the passage of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles to all warships, whether from countries “bordering the Black Sea or not”... This delay allowed the passage of a number of Russian ships now engaged in the invasion. Moreover, the Convention stipulates that the ban does not apply to ships returning to their home ports. Moscow wanted to send another four ships positioned in Tartus (Syria) through the Black Sea. Ankara only allowed the passage of the one that was indeed based in the Black Sea (Le Monde).

The situation also has some advantages for Ankara. Playing a balancing act, Mr Erdoğan is trying to place himself in the position of mediator. He thus received in Istanbul on the 29th Russian and Ukrainian delegations who had come to negotiate a possible end to the conflict on Turkish soil. At the same time, he is taking advantage of the return to favour with the European Union that his country’s position on the southern flank of NATO has earned him... The new geopolitical situation created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine could indirectly benefit him in terms of his domestic policy as well as his involvement in Syria, by giving him freer hands to internally repress and in Syria attack the Kurds...

The Turkish government has not shied away from repressing the Kurds at home this month. For the Newrouz festival on 21 March, it wanted to ban the celebration in Kurdish clothes throughout the country! As expected, the Kurds defied the ban. From Dersim to Diyarbakir, via Istanbul, they came out of their homes in traditional clothes literally by the millions, in freezing temperatures, to celebrate the holiday. Already at the beginning of the month, Kurdish parties, mainly the HDP, had announced their intention to celebrate Newroz all over the country despite government restrictions, under a new slogan: “It’s time for victory” (WKI).

In Aydın, police arrested several musicians for singing and playing “forbidden songs”. In Diyarbakir, hundreds of Kurds wearing clothes with the Kurdish flag were banned from the celebrations in the main square. Images circulating on social media showed police using water cannons to disperse a massive crowd. The police attacks, which began in the morning, continued throughout the day, with several people beaten by police outside the square.  Despite this violent repression, the celebrations gathered an all-time high of nearly one million people, who arrived on the morning of the 21st. At least 298 Kurds, including 74 children, were arrested and imprisoned in the city, according to the Diyarbakir Bar Association, which called for their immediate release, recalling the illegality of imprisoning minors. Women and LGBT people were particularly discriminated against on arrival at the site and throughout the day. In the morning police brutally searched women and LGBT people; later a group armed with knives attacked the LGBT group, attempting to burn rainbow flags and even lynching one person (Rûdaw). Celebrations also took place in Ankara, Gaziantep, Adana, Izmir, Van, Hakkari and Batman. Images of people dancing and singers performing in the snow circulated on social media. According to Mezopotamya Agency, Newrouz fires were set in 36 different locations in Turkey.

The municipality of Istanbul (CHP, Kemalist opposition) had authorised a rally in Yenikapı Square (Le Petit Journal). Despite the cold weather, it was attended by more than 500,000 people. The Kurds arrived at the square in the early hours of the 20th, wearing their colourful traditional clothes. Holding “Happy Newrouz” postcards and HDP flags, they danced and chanted Bijî Newroz (“Long live Newrouz!”). In a speech at the celebration, HDP co-chair Mithat Sancar said: “This government is maintaining itself in power through its war policies: war against Kurds, war against women, war against youth, war against workers, and war against nature”, before promising to end these repressive policies (Rûdaw).

Apart from the attempts to repress Newrouz, the government continued its policy of anti-Kurdish repression, including judicial harassment of HDP MPs.  On 1st of March, the parliament lifted the immunity of the HDP MP for Diyarbakir Semra Güzel, using as a pretext the publication of a photo showing her with a PKK member. The photo was taken in 2014 during the peace process with the PKK, when Güzel was part of an HDP delegation that came to support the PKK’s talks with the government. The HDP walked out of the parliamentary session in protest while 313 MPs approved the decision. Güzel faces imprisonment for “belonging to a terrorist organisation”. On the 9th, HDP international affairs spokespersons Feleknas Uca and Hişyar Özsoy recalled that already 13 HDP deputies have lost their immunity in what is “a long string of attacks on the HDP and parliamentary democracy”. Their statement also recalled that: “[...] these HDP meetings with PKK leaders and members took place at the official request of the Turkish government in the framework of the peace negotiations. During the same period, the Turkish government encouraged Kurdish families to meet with their PKK relatives to convince them to support a peaceful settlement and return home”. In fact, they state, “HDP leaders are being criminalised for their active role in the peace process, a role that the government had asked them to fulfil” (HDP Europe)...

In addition, arrests, charges and convictions of members of Kurdish cultural and political organisations continued. In Van, the leaders of the HDP Youth Council were arrested. On the 18th, Meryem Soylu, 79, was sentenced in Diyarbakir to six years and three months in prison for “belonging to a terrorist organisation”. The court accused her of being active in the Kurdish women’s organisation Kongra Jinên Azad (KJA), and the Martyrs’ Relatives Association (MEBYA-DER), an association for solidarity with people whose relatives have been victims of state repression. She was convicted for, among other things, participating in funerals and mourning ceremonies of fallen Kurdish guerrilla fighters. In addition, proceedings for “membership of a terrorist organisation” were also initiated against members of the Association of Lawyers for Freedom (ÖHD). These are the lawyers who had represented MEBYA-DER in several trials concerning the desecration by the repressive forces of the graves of Kurdish fighters... (RojInfo) Finally, the police arrested 21 women affiliated to Kurdish movements for organising an event on the occasion of the International Women’s Day in Mardin on 16 March. Among those arrested were several prominent HDP members, the chairwoman of the women’s organisation Rosa, Adalat Kaya, and the former co-mayor of Sur district, Filiz Buluttekin (WKI).

Finally, this month the death of another Kurdish political prisoner was announced. Incarcerated in Diyarbakir for 11 years, Bedri Çakmak had been suffering from stomach cancer but despite a medical report indicating that he could not remain incarcerated, the Turkish authorities refused to release him until the final stage of his illness in 2021. He died only a few months after his release. At the time of his release, he weighed only 35 kg. The Med Federation of Associations for Legal Solidarity with the Families of Prisoners and Convicts (MED TUHAD-FED), which made his death public, accused the government on Twitter of being responsible for his death (Kurdistan au Féminin).

It was also this month that the Diyarbakir Court of Appeal overturned a ruling granting financial compensation to the family of Kemal Kurkut, a young man shot dead by police on Newrouz 2017. This is a real denial of justice, as Kurkut was clearly no serious danger for policemen when he was killed. The governor of the province supported the police action at the time, saying there was a suspicion of suicide bombing. But photos taken by journalist Abdurrahman Gök, published the very next day, showed Kurkut shirtless and therefore unable to wear an explosive waistcoat... Gök was then charged with “belonging to a terrorist organisation”, and the two police officers charged with the fatal shooting were acquitted in January 2020...

Also on the repression front, the Istanbul Criminal Court decided to keep in prison Turkish activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala, who was charged with “attempting to overthrow the government” for supporting the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul in 2013, and has been held since October 2017. In Adana, at least ten people were arrested for criticising the government on social media. Finally, on the 30th, the trial of military analyst and opposition politician Metin Gurcan, accused of espionage, began. A retired military officer, Gurcan is also a founding member of the opposition party DEVA (“Democracy and Progress”), led by former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan. He has also contributed articles on military issues to the Al-Monitor news website. Arrested at his home in Istanbul on 29 November on charges of leaking state secrets to foreign diplomats, he faces life in prison (ABC News).

Finally, one may wonder whether the ruling AKP-MHP tandem is not beginning to feel some “pre-election anxiety”? On the 31st, the parliament passed a law lowering the threshold for a party to enter the Assembly from 10% to 7%. As it happens, the MHP’s support among the public has, according to recent polls, dropped from 11.1% to… around 7% (Reuters).


A few days before the start of the conflict in Ukraine, all the negotiators were counting on a rapid outcome to the Vienna talks on the Iranian nuclear issue – success or failure, but in any case a conclusion around the end of February. But on 24 February the Russian invasion of Ukraine took place, and time stood still. As a partner in the talks held directly with the UK, Germany, France, China and indirectly with the US, Russia made new demands, effectively halting the talks: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov demanded assurances from the US that Western sanctions against Russia would not interfere with future Russian-Iranian trade.

In Iran, the pro-regime media describe the Ukrainian situation in Russian terms: “special military operation”. As for responsibility, in his speech of 1st of March, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was clear: it lies in the “destabilising policies of the United States” and the West’s interference. There is no question of blaming the Russian ally for the delay in lifting the sanctions against the country. Khamenei even managed the feat of not even mentioning Russia in his speech on the war in Ukraine! Iranians are not fooled: “On social networks, one of the few places where Iranians can still express themselves freely, many express their dislike for Vladimir Putin and their admiration for the Ukrainian people” (Le Monde).

However, Iran and Russia do not have exactly the same interests: Iran wants the sanctions lifted first and foremost so that it can resume oil exports, but these will help the West to reduce its dependence on Russian oil... Conversely, the United States fears that Russia could use its trade relations with Iran to circumvent the sanctions. Finally, the time factor is critical for the West, which is concerned about the rate of uranium enrichment already obtained by Iran: “Iran has regularly denied that it intends to build a nuclear weapon”, notes the New York Times, “but it has enriched uranium to 60%, a level that has no civilian use, and has created uranium metal that would be needed to make a bomb”. The country would be only a few weeks away from getting the bomb – although making it operational would take much longer... However, as European negotiators found the Russian demands “unacceptable”, negotiations were suspended on the 11th. A diplomat speaking on behalf of the three European capitals – Paris, Berlin and London – that signed the 2015 agreement spoke of Russian “hostage-taking”.

March is also the month of International Women’s Day on the 8th. On this occasion, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) paid tribute to women’s struggles around the world. Particularly in Iran, courageous women lawyers, activists, journalists or mothers of victims of state violence, despite the systematic human rights violations and discrimination they face, do not hesitate to demand justice, freedom, equality and basic civil liberties for all Iranians. They are often imprisoned for their activism (IHR). Some of them, like the “Mothers of Laleh Park” or the “Mothers of Khavaran”, initiators of the Dadkhahi (“Quest for Justice”) movement, are looking for the killers of their children, victims of the state while they were demonstrating. This increasingly active movement also brings together former political prisoners, relatives of political prisoners executed in the 1980s, and relatives of some of the 176 passengers killed on board the Ukrainian plane shot down by the Pasdaran in January 2020 (CHRI).

At the same time, the authorities are trying to silence women political prisoners by subjecting them to inhumane living conditions: they are deprived of medical care, prevented from speaking to their children, transferred far from their relatives, or placed in solitary confinement for long periods of time... (IHR) On 8 March, the human rights organisation Hengaw announced that in 2021, the authorities had arrested 35 women in Kurdistan, 12 of whom were subsequently sentenced to prison terms.

Women are not the only ones to suffer prison abuses, and Iranian prisons remain places of torture, especially for the many political prisoners. On the 3rd, CHRI Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi denounced the deliberate deprivation of care to which they are subjected, naming Sepideh Qoliyan, Soheila Hejab, Zeinab Jalalian, Arsham (Mahmoud) Rezaee, and Abbas Vahedian Shahroudi, among others, and adding that he fears for their lives. These fears are reinforced by the fact that at least two political prisoners, Baktash Abtin and Adel Kianpour, have already died in Iranian state prisons in the first months of 2022 after being denied urgent medical care. CHRI has urged the international community to put pressure on Iran to end the denial of medical care, and to hospitalise the most urgent cases. The list of prisoners at risk on medical grounds is growing every week. On the 10th, CHRI sent a letter to Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, asking for her intervention in the denial of treatment and the continued imprisonment of young freelance journalist Sepideh Qoliyan. The letter states that “Iranian law provides for such release; Article 502 of the Iranian Code of Criminal Procedure stipulates that a prisoner’s sentence may be suspended if incarceration would aggravate his physical or mental illness”, before noting that, in contradiction with the law, “the denial of medical care is commonly used by the Islamic Republic as a means of punishing political prisoners”. This practice becomes even more outrageous when the country is hit so hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The arbitrarily imprisoned poet Baktash Abtin has just died of this disease in Evin prison, and according to the testimony of his brother Mehdi, Sepideh Qoliyan has just contracted the disease...

In addition, the regime’s repressive forces continue to kill unarmed cross-border porters, or kolbars, by systematically shooting them in the mountains. In February alone, 17 of them were killed, jumped on mines or died in accidents. In early March, one was injured near Mariwan, while another froze to death near Sardasht. Another lost an eye and a leg to a mine in Baneh... On 8 March, three kolbars were injured at the Nowsud border by soldiers who shot at them without warning, and had to be hospitalised. On 9 March, 4 other porters were injured when their car overturned on the Paveh-Nowsud road and had to be hospitalised. The following week, two more accidents left 11 people injured in Rawansour and Paveh, while border guards injured at least five more near Kangavar, Nowsud, and Sardasht. Three more kolbars were injured when they fell into a ravine near Nowsud and Salas-e Babajani. Finally, the Hengaw Human Rights Organisation reported that Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) killed a 70-year-old woman and her 30-year-old son in their vehicle near Dalahu (WKI) on the 13th.

This year again, the Iranian authorities tried to prevent the Kurds from celebrating Newrouz. Dozens of Kurds had been arrested in 2021 for celebrating Newrouz by singing Kurdish songs and flying the Kurdish flag. From the beginning of the month, activists, community leaders and teachers in Iranian Kurdistan were warned not to participate in celebrations other than those “organised by the State”. Strict security measures were put in place, including the deployment of Pasdaran.

However, despite the regime’s efforts, tens of thousands of Kurds defied the bans and celebrated Newrouz. Several Kurdish parties in exile in Iraqi Kurdistan had called for participation in the celebrations (WKI). At least 60 people were arrested by security forces in Sanandaj and Piranshahr, according to the human rights organisation Hengaw. Nine civilians, including the three organisers, were arrested immediately after participating in the Newroz celebrations at a children’s park in Sanandaj. Iranian security forces prevented people from attending the event and disrupted the celebration (Rûdaw). A 14-year-old girl was arrested and released the next day. In the village of Ney (Marivan), security forces, military and riot police raided to prevent the ceremony. According to an informed source, they attacked the population and opened fire on the crowd, injuring several people. Intelligence and pasdaran agents had summoned 61 residents of Ney in advance to prevent the celebrations. In Oshnavieh, special forces and riot police dispersed the crowd using tear gas and pellet fire (KurdPA).

Arrests and convictions have also continued this month. On 1er March, Amnesty International issued a call for “Urgent Action” regarding seven Kurdish political prisoners at risk of execution ( Anwar Khezri, Ayoub Karimi, Davoud Abdollahi, Farhad Salimi, Ghassem Abesteh, Kamran Sheikheh and Khosrow Basharat, affiliated to a Sunni group, were all convicted of “corruption on earth” (ifsad fil Arz) and sentenced to death after a grossly unfair trial in which the judge barred their lawyers from speaking, while they claim that the “evidence” used to convict them was extracted through torture. The NGO is calling for a written request to the head of the Iranian judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, to halt the executions.

In Urmia, Kurdish activist Fairoz Mosalou, imprisoned for almost 3 years without trial in Kotol (Qutur), was sentenced to death on 7 October for moharebeh (“enmity against God”), “war against the state” and “membership of a Kurdish party” (WKI, KurdPA). On the 23rd, CHRI reported that human rights activist and former prisoner of conscience Narges Mohammadi had announced on Twitter in a message tagged in Persian “civil disobedience” (nafermani madani) that she would peacefully refuse to go to prison to serve the 8-year sentence she had been sentenced to after a trial lasting... 5 minutes. Narges Mohammadi has already spent the better part of the last 13 years (2009 to 2013 and 2015 to 2020) behind bars for peacefully defending her rights. With extraordinary courage, she has neither bowed to the authorities nor given up on making her voice heard, even in prison, such as when she organised a sit-in in the women’s ward of Evin prison to condemn the killing of hundreds of protesters by security forces during the November 2019 protests, or the execution of wrestler Navid Afkari (CHRI). Narges Mohammadi is the spokesperson for the Defenders of Human Rights Center founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, who dedicated her prize to her.

In addition, the Intelligence (Etelaat) rejected Zara Mohamadi’s request for temporary release to celebrate Newrouz. The young woman is serving a five-year prison sentence for teaching the Kurdish language. In Urmia, two Kurds were sentenced to two to three years in prison for “belonging to banned parties” and attempting to “disrupt national security”, and in Khoy, a Kurd from Turkey, Hatem Odemiz, was sentenced to death for “belonging to the PKK” (WKI).

Finally, the Centre for Cooperation of Kurdish Political Parties of Iran (CCIKP) denounced on the 15th the missile attack launched by the pasdaran on Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and called on the international community to “stop the Islamic Republic”. In 2018, the Pasdaran had already launched a ballistic missile strike on the CCIKP headquarters in Iraqi Kurdistan, killing 16 people and injuring dozens.


Four years after the brutal invasion of the Kurdish canton of Afrin by Ankara and its jihadist mercenaries and auxiliaries, the toll is truly terrifying. Below are two articles that give an idea of the situation.

The first, published (in English) on the website of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), gives a general picture of the violations committed by the occupiers (link to the original article:

The second, published on its website (in Kurdish) by the Iraqi Kurdish TV channel Rûdaw, focuses on the issue of demographic changes introduced by the occupiers, showing the anti-Kurdish ethnic cleansing at work by the Turkish will (link to the original article:


1) The Turkish occupation of Afrin four years on | Nearly 7,500 abductions and arrests and 2,300 other violations committed by Turkish forces and their proxy factions

Systematic plan to change the demography of Afrin and ongoing destruction of Syria’s historical heritage

18 March 2022

Today, March 18, Syrians mark the fourth anniversary of the occupation of Afrin city and affiliated districts, (aka “Afrin canton”) in the north-western countryside of Aleppo by Turkish forces and their proxy factions and mercenaries. These forces launched a large-scale military operation they called “Olive Branch” on January 2018 and imposed full control of the canton on March 18, 2018.

For four years, the canton has experienced scores of humanitarian crises and security chaos which is deteriorating daily, where violations and explosions are documented regularly. Since the first day of the Turkish invasion, with the participation of factions of “Olive Branch” operations room, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has monitored and tracked all developments and documented all violations against the people of Afrin, including incidents of looting and sabotage of private and public properties, all of which have been covered by SOHR through daily news articles and reports.

Figures and details

The Turkish invasion, fierce military operations and heinous crimes by the factions have forced over 310,000 civilians, equivalent to 56% of the indigenous residents, to flee from their land and homes. Accordingly, residents lost their properties which have been taken over by Turkish-backed factions. While the situation of those residents who have chosen to stay in their areas over displacement has not been better, as they have endured absolute repression and blatant human rights violations, including kidnappings and arbitrary arrests with the aim of collecting ransoms, along with ongoing and daily incidents of seizure of harvest, houses, shops and cars. Through all of these violations, Turkish-backed factions are attempting to force the remaining residents out from Afrin as a part of Turkey’s plan of systematic demographic change.

Since January 20, 2018, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has documented the death of 639 Kurdish civilians in Afrin, including 95 children and 86 women in explosions of IEDs and car bombs, airstrikes and ground bombardment by Turkish forces and executions, while some died under torture in prisons run by Turkish-backed factions.

Also, SOHR has documented, since the beginning of Turkish occupation of Afrin until the evening of March 17, 2022, the kidnapping and arrest of over 7,497 Kurdish civilians from Afrin, 1,300 of whom remained imprisoned, while the rest have been released, after most of them paid large ransoms which factions of the Turkish-backed “National Army” required.

According to SOHR statistics, over 4,180 families from different Syrian provinces were settled in Afrin, after having been forced to displace from their land, as a part of Turkey’s plan to change the demography of Afrin. Under Russian-Turkish agreements, Afrin was handed over to the Turks in return for allowing the Syrian regime to capture eastern Ghouta. The Syrian Observatory has been all along warning against the Turkish plan of systematic demographic change in Afrin since the first day of the Turkish occupation, where over half of the population of Afrin canton has been forced to displace from their homes, while thousands of families from other provinces have been settled in the canton instead; all of this has taken place in full view of the international community which seemed to be indifferent and kept silent.

Heinous crimes and blatant violations

In four years of the Turkish occupation of Afrin, SOHR has documented over 2,318 different violations added to those kidnappings and arbitrary arrests. Here are further details of these violations:

647 incidents of seizure of houses and shops by members and commanders of Turkish-backed factions in Afrin city and affiliated districts. The seized houses belonged to people who have forced to displace from Afrin canton due to the “Olive Branch” operation and others of those who refused to displace. 364 incidents of seizure of farmlands belonging to displaced people from Afrin city and affiliated districts. 202 incidents of selling displaced people’s houses which had been seized earlier by Turkish-backed factions by force. The houses were sold at low prices and in US dollar in particular. 385 incidents of imposition of levies on civilians by the factions and local councils in return for allowing them to cultivate their land and harvest crops. The requested levies were shares of the harvest and profits or sums of money paid in US dollar and Turkish lira. 720 incidents of felling fruit-bearing trees by factions of the Turkish-backed “National Army” with the aim of selling them as fire logs, and tens of thousands of fruit-bearing trees have been cut down.

Sabotage of Syria’s historical heritage

Afrin is well-known for its archaeological sites which date back to different eras; the most prominent sites are:

The city of Nebi Huri which is located nearly 23 km away from Afrin city. Sam’an fortress which is located 20 km to the south of Afrin city. That site contained Mar Sam’an Church which was the largest church in the world. Jabal Al-Sheik Barakat. Jabal Barsaya. Ain Dara archaeological city which hosts many monuments and a temple contains several statues.

These sites as well as many other archaeological sites around Afrin have been subject to excavation and digging work by Turkish-backed factions in the past for years, where too many relics, antiques and artefacts have been stolen from the archaeological site of Nebi Huri known as “Hagioupolis” or “Khoros” which date back to 280 B.C. (Hellenistic era).

Moreover, the excavators used heavy diggers and earth-moving machineries during excavation and digging work, searching for buried treasures to sell them abroad. Many sites have been destroyed, including the following:

Marania hill in Sheikh Hadeed district. The archaeological hill of Laq in Sharran district. The archaeological hill of Shourba in Ma’batli district. The archaeological hill of Abdalu. The perimeter and surrounding areas of the “Roman amphitheatre” near Nebi Huri fortress in Sharran district in Afrin countryside. Aqrab hill in Jalmeh village. Al-Sheikh Abdulrahman hill in Jendires district. The archaeological hill of Dodi in Maydanki village in Sharran district. The hills of Marsawa and Ain Dibaybah in Afrin city. The archaeological site of Be’r Al-Jouz in Ma’batli district. Qarat Tabbah hill in Sharran district. Qah Waqqah hill in Raju district. Haloubiyah hill in Afrin city. Faraq hill which is near Jendires district and near Afrin river.

For four years of the occupation of Afrin city and surrounding districts, Turkish forces and their proxy Syrian factions have wreaked havoc and committed plethora of heinous crimes breaching all international conventions and charters and human rights laws, amid “shameful” and “suspicious” inaction by the international community which exhibits no willingness to put an end to these “grave” violations, despite SOHR’s repeated warnings about the dreadful humanitarian situation in the region.

We, at the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), renew our appeal to the international community to interfere immediately and exert pressure on the Turkish government and its proxy factions to stop their violations in Afrin, bring the Turkish occupation to an end and secure safe return of indigenous residents who have been forced to displace during the recent military operation.




18/03/2022 - Rûdaw - 650,000 Arabs and Turkmen have been settled in the Afrin region

Four years have passed since the occupation of Afrin. From then until now, Turkey has systematically changed the demography of Afrin and settled 650,000 Arabs and Turkmen in the area.

After 4 years of occupation, the Turkish army and its Syrian militias have completely changed the demography of the region including the centre of the city of Afrin in Western Kurdistan, where the percentage of Kurds was about 98%.

Hundreds of thousands of Arabs and Turkmen have been settled in the Afrin region and 60% of its original inhabitants have been displaced and forced to migrate by force of arms.

According to information obtained by Rûdaw Media Network from several sources in the region, the demographic change in Afrin can now be described as follows: with 650,000 Arabs and Turkmen settled by the Turkish army and its Arab militias, the forced deportation of the Kurdish population has reduced the population to 250,000 or 300,000 Kurds in Afrin, which is now 35% of the population. Today, more than 100,000 Kurds have become displaced persons in the Shehba district where there are 5 camps.

Mr Ednan Murad, lawyer at Afrin Bar Association, told Rûdaw Media Network that the rate of demographic change is not the same in all villages and districts, but that in any case the solution is to help the people of Afrin to return to their homes. Mr Ednan Murad added: “The demography is being changed in a planned way in Afrin. The population of some villages has now become 100% Arab. In some villages, 90% of the Kurds have remained on their native soil. In some places, the evacuated houses are 100% occupied by Turks and Arabs. Therefore, if our people are given the opportunity to return to their homes, it will force the demographic change plan to be suspended”.

After the Turkish occupation of the region, about 300,000 Afrin inhabitants left their region. Some of them arrived in Aleppo, Kobanê or Cizre. Some of the refugees are arriving in Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan (Bashur) and also in different European countries. There are also about 100,000 displaced migrants in the Shehba area, in camps or villages in the district.