On 1st August, Iraq woke up, as Le Monde put it, “with the sensation of walking on the edge of a precipice”. Since 30 July, supporters of the populist leader Moqtada Al-Sadr have occupied the Baghdad parliament, demanding its dissolution before new early elections. On 31 July, Sadr called for a wider mobilisation and “the opportunity for a radical change in the political system”. In response, supporters of the “Coordination Framework”, a coalition of pro-Iranian parties and militias, accused Sadr of preparing a coup and announced their own demonstrations.
Such a confrontation risked provoking irreparable violence that could lead the country to civil war. While Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, who is in charge of current affairs, made repeated calls for dialogue, military reinforcements were brought in during the night to secure the “green zone” where the parliament and the main institutions are located. The commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Al-Quds Force, Esmail Qaani, considered to be the Iranian pro-consul in Iraq, arrived in Baghdad for talks with the various political players.
Since the early elections of October 2021, which were themselves triggered by the major anti-establishment protests of October 2019, inter-communal tensions between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds have been overshadowed by serious intra-communal fractures. The most dangerous seems to be the one concerning the Shiites, the majority in the country, but divided between pro-Iranians, Iraqi nationalists obeying Sadr, and the still very active protest movement. If they are very opposed to the pro-Iranian bloc, the protesters also accuse Sadr of an attempt to recuperate their movement. The populist leader has sought to use the movement born in 2019 to his advantage, alternately calling on his supporters to support and repress it... This division of the Shiites into three irreconcilable blocs is largely responsible for the current political paralysis.
Tensions increased further after the Coordination Framework nominated Mohamed al-Sudani as its candidate for Prime minister. Already perceived as pro-Iranian, Soudani is also close to former Prime Minister Al-Maliki, hated by Sadr since he ordered in 2008 the crushing in Basra of the “Mahdi Army”, the militia Sadr had formed to fight the American occupation.
On the 5th, despite a temperature at nearly 50°C, tens of thousands of people, some from the south of the country, demonstrated in Baghdad in support of Sadr. Both sides held new demonstrations the following week, which fortunately did not lead to clashes. However, the fear of an escalation remained, as did the fear that tensions would spread to the Kurdish and Sunni regions of the country... (Le Monde)
On the 12th, supporters of the Coordination Framework settled themselves on an avenue in Baghdad leading to the Green Zone. Sadr, for his part, filed a request for the dissolution of Parliament with the Federal Supreme Court. The latter replied on 16 December that it could not take such a decision. The populist leader then called for a “million person demonstration” on the 20th, before withdrawing his call.
On the 17th, a “national dialogue” meeting, called by Prime Minister Al-Kadhimi the previous week, was held at the government headquarters. The different political forces participated... with the exception of the Sadrist current, which had announced its non-participation the same morning. In addition to the Iraqi President Barham Saleh (Kurdish) and the President of the Parliament Mohamed al-Halboussi (Sunni), an ally of Sadr, the meeting was attended by leaders of the Coordination Framework and of the Hashd al-Shaabi militias, as well as those of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, plus the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI), Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert. At the end of the meeting, the participants said in a joint communiqué that they were committed to working on a “roadmap” to break the deadlock in the country, not excluding the organisation of early elections. They also invited the Sadrist Current to join them in the dialogue (AFP).
On the morning of the 29th, in one of his secret surprise decisions, Moqtada Al-Sadr announced his “withdrawal from political life”. This announcement provoked serious violence in the Green Zone in the afternoon, which continued on the 30th. Thousands of his supporters invaded the seat of government, while the security forces tried to disperse other demonstrators trying to enter the Green Zone with tear gas canisters. Fifteen demonstrators were shot dead and some 350 others injured, either by bullets or by breathing in tear gas. In addition, according to a security source, exchanges of fire, sometimes with mortars, took place between the “Peace Brigades” (Saraya al-Salam), an armed Sadrist group stationed on the outskirts of the Zone, and the Hashd Al-Shaabi and army special forces, who responded from inside (AFP). Clashes also took place in Basra. A curfew was declared from 7 p.m. in the whole country, except for Kurdistan Region.
Eventually, Sadr called on his supporters to leave, which put an end to the violence. Although calm returned to Baghdad on the last day of the month, August ended as it had begun, with great tension and concern for the future...
These strong tensions have obviously had echoes in the Kurdistan Region. To a certain extent, they have led to a certain rapprochement between the two main Kurdish parties, the KDP and the PUK, which are in different camps in Baghdad, the KDP supporting the Sadrist alliance, the PUK being close to the “Coordination Framework”. The PUK and KDP are still in conflict over the choice of the future Iraqi President, each one presenting its own candidate. On the 9th, the leaders of the two parties announced that they wanted to “work on a unified position of the Kurdish political parties in the light of the challenges facing Iraq and the Kurdistan Region”. The Kurdish leaders have also sought on several occasions to promote dialogue between the different alliances in conflict in Baghdad. Thus, on 30 August, the President of Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani, urged the parties concerned to “return to logic” and to engage in a “national dialogue”.
On the other hand, the position of the Kurdish parties remains important at the central level; the KDP, for example, became one of the leading parties in Iraq in terms of number of seats in the last parliamentary elections. On the 16th, the “Coordination Framework” sent to Erbil the head of the Badr Organisation, Haidi al-Ameri, who urged the Kurdish parties to hold a parliamentary session to finally designate the next Iraqi President... The KDP-UPK disagreement on this issue plays an important role in the prolongation of the stalemate suffered by the country for the last year. With regard to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the pro-Iranian camp has not always just being “politely asking”… Following the numerous attacks launched over the past months against Kurdish oil and gas installations, the leaders of the KDP, who dominate the KRG, accused Iran of threatening them by this means to force them to leave the Sadrist alliance. It should also be noted that on the 30th, while Baghdad was in chaos, in Kirkuk, the pro-Iranian militias of the Hashd al-Shaabi advanced ostensibly towards the checkpoints leading to Erbil and Sulaimaniyeh to confront the peshmergas deployed on the other side of the line separating the two forces...
Besides, the Kurdistan Region has in a way experienced the contagion of the demonstrations that took place this month in the rest of Iraq: on the 6th, the Suleimaniyeh Security Police dispersed with tear gas and rubber bullets a rally called by the opposition party “New Generation” to protest against economic difficulties, the authoritarianism of the KRG and the corruption of the two dominant parties. Seven “New Generation” parliamentarians, six with seats in Baghdad and one in Erbil, were briefly detained as they prepared to demonstrate (AFP).
Several consuls representing their countries in Erbil expressed concern about the dozens of arrests of politicians, journalists and MPs following the demonstration. A media outlet close to the party said on the 7th that more than 600 people had been arrested during the previous day’s demonstrations, and the Metro Center for Journalists Rights and Advocacy, a local media advocacy group, stated that 11 journalists had even been preventively arrested the day before the march – a claim denied by Sulaimaniyeh Security. Following messages of concern posted on Twitter by the consuls of the UK and Germany, the Dutch Vice-Consul General in turn called on the Kurdistan Region authorities to “respect the freedom of expression of the protesters” (Rûdaw).
With regard to the forthcoming regional legislative elections, President Nechirvan Barzani organised a meeting on the 16th which was attended by most of the leaders of the Kurdistan parties, with the exception of “New Generation”, as well as the UN envoy in the country, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert. Discussions focused on ways to “resolve disagreements”. Some parties want the electoral law to be amended before the elections (Rûdaw). In the statement issued after the meeting, the Presidency said that the President had stressed that “Delaying the elections would damage the image and reputation of the Kurdistan Region”, and that “the political parties will continue to discuss and prepare for the elections in cooperation with the UNAMI team of experts”.
Another project underway is the drafting of a regional constitution for Kurdistan. The Presidency of the Parliament launched on the 28th the first of a series of meetings during which the different parties will discuss this subject.
Regarding attacks on hydrocarbon sites, on the 30th, the peshmerga disabled three Katyusha rocket launchers aimed at the Qadir Karam gas site, which has already suffered several attacks with this type of weapon, most likely by members of the Hashd al-Shaabi. In Washington, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of its members, Robert Menendez and James Risch, wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the 15th requesting “the highest level” of US engagement to help resolve the disputes between Erbil and Baghdad over Kurdistan’s oil and gas exports and thus “preserve the economic stability of the [Kurdistan Region of Iraq]”. Their letter denounced the Iraqi Supreme Court’s decision to declare the KRG’s oil and gas law unconstitutional and the continuing attacks, which negatively impacted “the foreign investment climate and Iraq’s ability to become independent of Iranian energy” (Foreign Relations). On the 19th, three members of the House of Representatives wrote to Antony Blinken to ask the Biden administration to support the KRG in the face of attempts by Iran and pro-Iranian Iraqi parties to force it to reduce its energy production. The authors point out that “the KRG’s gas resources could help Iraq and eventually Turkey and Southern Europe to do without Russian and Iranian gas supplies as we put Russia under sanctions [...]”. The two letters are both bi-partisan, with both Republican and Democratic authors. It seems doubtful, however, that the State Department, whose current priority is the restoration of a nuclear agreement with Iran, would risk upsetting that country by condemning too strongly its attacks on Kurdistan... (Kurdistan-24)
Besides Iranian or pro-Iranian attacks, Kurdistan is also still confronted with the jihadist terrorism of ISIS and Turkish operations.
ISIS’ jihadists continue to take advantage of the lack of coordination between Kurdish and Iraqi forces in the disputed territories. On 10 August, they fired three missiles at an Iraqi army position near Daquq (south of Kirkuk), wounding three soldiers, before killing a lieutenant and wounding two other officers in clashes. On the 20th, the security forces announced the arrest of 6 jihadists in the province, but this did not prevent the killing of a mukhtar (village head) on the same day, followed on the 25th by an attack on a village near Daquq where an IED (improvised explosive device) killed one Iraqi soldier and wounded two others (WKI). On the 28th, a Kurdish shepherd was killed near the lake of Rokhana, in the south-east of the province. At least 4 shepherds were attacked by 2 suspected ISIS militants. The shepherds put them to flight, even shooting one of them. These attacks are attempted kidnappings, a means the jihadists, lacking funds, use to finance themselves by demanding ransoms of about $25,000 from the family. Since April, five Arab or Kurdish shepherds have been kidnapped in Kirkuk (Kurdistan-24). On the 29th, two more were kidnapped near the Jabar Bor oil field. On the 30th, security forces killed one jihadist and wounded a second during a search for hostages. On the 31st, the inhabitants of the village of Salayi put many jihadists on the run.
In Khanaqin, the Peshmerga and the Iraqi military carried out a joint operation on the 23rd that “cleared” the eastern part of the district. The region still remains in a security vacuum, as Baghdad has still not authorised the joint forces to deploy in the area, in accordance with the agreement reached with Erbil.
3rd of August was the 8th anniversary of the genocide perpetrated by ISIS against the Yezidi community. On this occasion, the KRG Committee in charge of the investigation of this event published chilling statistics. According to the figures, the fate of 2,717 Yezidis abducted by the jihadists, 1,273 women and 1,444 men, remains unknown. 3,554 abducted Yezidis have been rescued, including 1,207 women and girls, 339 men and 1,051 children, while 146 have been killed (WKI). The International Organisation for Migration (IOM, a UN agency) said in its own assessment on the 4th that some of the 2,700 Yezidis still missing were still being held by ISIS. The agency also put the number of Yezidis still displaced at over 200,000. The lack of returns to Sinjar, Yazidis home area, is due to the lack of reconstruction and basic services in the district, where ISIS had almost completely destroyed the infrastructure, as well as to the continuing violence. In early May, clashes broke out there between the Iraqi army and Yezidi fighters affiliated to the PKK. Finally, Turkey regularly strikes Sinjar as part of its anti-PKK operation (AFP).
It should be recalled that after a Turkish artillery strike killed 9 tourists in Zakho on 20 July, Iraq requested an emergency session of the UN Security Council. During the session, which took place on 26 July, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein demanded the “total withdrawal” of Turkish forces from Iraq. However, the Turkish representative stated that the Turkish army would continue to target “terrorists” in Iraq. On 1st August, a Turkish drone strike hit a vehicle between Ranya and Chwarqorna, killing one occupant and wounding the other. On the 29th, a drone strike on a village killed 2 and seriously wounded 1 “Sinjar Resistance Units” (YBŞ) fighters, while another strike killed a father of 6 girls in Makhmour refugee camp and wounded 2 other civilians (WKI).
Finally, Kurds continue to face discrimination in the disputed territories that Baghdad regained control of in October 2017. On the 4th, a division of the Iraqi army cut off the electricity to the village of Kabala in the Sargaran district of Kirkuk, which has long been claimed by Arab settlers. According to the villagers, it was one of them, wanting to occupy more Kurdish land, who asked the officers to cut off the electricity. On the same day, the Mosul Military Court held the final hearing in the trial of 14 Kurdish police officers accused of participating in the Kurdistan independence referendum in September 2017. After 5 years, the court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to convict the defendants. Kirkuk does not have a Military Court, so a committee from the Mosul Military Court visits Kirkuk twice a week to review cases involving security officers.
On the 10th, the Kirkuk provincial administration launched a recruitment campaign for 1,000 positions. However, the online form automatically excludes candidates born in the Kurdistan Region, allowing access only to Iraqis born in the other 15 provinces of the country... This despite the fact that a large proportion of the Kurds in Kirkuk, displaced during the time of Saddam Hussein’s regime, were born in Kurdistan. Similarly, potential candidates whose identity card was issued in the district of Qadirkaram, belonging to the province of Kirkuk but administered by the KRG, are excluded. In addition, Kakai Kurds have been excluded from the quotas for minorities. Finally, the hiring priority given to the relatives of the victims of the war against ISIS completely ignores the peshmergas, who have lost 1,400 fighters in this battle since 2014... (WKI)
On the 8th, eight Kurdish police officers from Tuz Khurmatu were transferred to the police of Salahaddin province. This transfer provoked protests in the city’s Kurdish community because the departure of these officers further reduces the proportion of Kurdish police officers, already only 13%, compared to 40% for Arabs and Turkmens. On the 12th, the Kurdish MP for Tuz Khurmatu, Mullah Karim Shukur, also indicated that 600 Kurdish families displaced in October 2017 have still not returned, due to the lack of compensation to rebuild their homes, which were burned and destroyed by Shiite militias. The latter destroyed hundreds of houses, forcing thousands of Kurdish families to leave.
After the Iranian-Russian-Turkish summit in Tehran on 19 July, many observers had concluded that the Turkish President’s plans for a new invasion of Rojava had come to a halt: Iran and Russia had reiterated their opposition to such an operation, and so far indeed, none has been launched. But Iraq’s Kurdish channel Rûdaw noted on 1st August that “since the summit”, “an unprecedented number of air strikes and drone attacks have targeted Syrian Kurds”, making July “the deadliest month of 2022 for Kurdish fighters”. Mr Erdoğan, in a quiet bargain, may well have won the right to launch unlimited air strikes against the PYD. The Russian military, which virtually controls Syrian airspace, has so far taken no action to shoot down any of the many Turkish drones that constantly fly over it. While Turkey continues to proclaim its intention to complete the 30 km deep “security zone” it has begun to create with its 3 previous operations, the Kurdish news channel Rûdaw observes that at the end of July, “Russian military police patrolled for the first time ever in the eastern areas of Qamishli with a depth of 30 km”...
The Turkish threats play in favour of the regime, as the Kurds have no other option than to call on the Syrian army to deploy in areas that were previously under their exclusive control, such as Tal Rifaat, Manbij, Kobane and Ain Issa...
It is in this context that the Turkish president met his Russian counterpart in Sochi on 5 August, a meeting at the end of which the joint declaration mentioned a “strengthening of trade” between the two countries (AFP). Less than a week later, on the 11th, the Turkish Foreign Minister revealed that he had met his Syrian counterpart in Belgrade in October during the Non-Aligned Movement Summit. He then called for “reconciliation between the opposition and the regime in Syria” in order to seal a “lasting peace” (Middle-East Eye). This statement literally set fire the next day to all Syrian territories controlled by the opposition or the Turkish army and its Syrian proxies, in Idlib, Azaz, Al-Bab or even Afrin... In nearly 30 different places, tens of thousands of Syrians marched, taking down or burning Turkish flags. In Azaz, the demonstrators attacked the Turkish security office. At the Jerablus border crossing, the Turkish military had to shoot in the air to try to keep the demonstrators away from the crossing point (SOHR).
Faced with this outcry, the ministry issued a clarification avoiding the term “reconciliation” and reaffirming “Turkey’s full support for the opposition”... (AFP) But the hints of reconciliation continued. On the 16th, AKP MP Hayati Yazıcı hinted that “the level [of diplomatic contact] could increase”. On the 19th, Erdoğan said on his return from Ukraine: “For us, it is not about defeating or not defeating Assad”, adding that keeping the channels of dialogue open with the Syrian government was “necessary” (Al-Monitor).
An Ankara-Damascus rapprochement is a direct threat to the AANES, but in order for it to materialise, Ankara has to accept the idea of withdrawing its troops from Syrian soil... Turkey’s planned “Security Zone” on Syrian territory seems incompatible with a reconciliation. This is probably why on the 19th, Mr Erdoğan also said that Turkey had “no views on the territory of Syria”. He also called for “strengthening” coordination with Moscow in northern Syria to fight “terrorism” (AFP) – a word which for Erdoğan first and foremost means the Syrian Kurds...
All these diplomatic moves were however paradoxically accompanied by an intensification of Turkish attacks against the Kurds, but also against Syrian troops, now frequently deployed in the same areas. Ankara’s message is clear: the regime’s army must stop giving the Kurds indirect support through its presence, the condition for effective rapprochement is the joint fight against the Kurds (Al-Monitor).
In response to the Turkish escalation, the SDF has occasionally targeted the Turkish side of the border. On the 8th, they claimed 3 attacks on the Turkish province of Mardin that killed 23 Turkish soldiers. Despite numerous previous exchanges of fire, this is the first time the SDF has claimed such attacks. On the 18th, they claimed responsibility for the deaths of another 6 soldiers near a border post in Şanlıurfa. Turkey retaliated by bombing... a Syrian military base near Kobanê.
Interestingly, these diplomatic developments have had an impact on the joint Turkish-Russian patrols conducted regularly in northern Syria since the November 2019 ceasefire, showing how volatile relations are between the forces involved. While on 1st August, the 108th of them did take place, covering several villages to the west of Kobane, the one planned for the 11th in the Darbasiyah region (Hasakeh) was cancelled by Turkey, as was the one on the 18th. It was only on the 22nd that the 109th joint patrol was held near Kobanê, during which the two Russian helicopters taking part had to fire tear gas and bullets at the inhabitants of one of the villages they passed through, who were blocking the passage of military vehicles to express their rejection of the Turkish presence. Two joint patrols were then held as normal on the 25th in Darbasiyah and on the 29th in Kobanê, but on the 31st Turkish forces and their Syrian auxiliaries opened fire on a Russian patrol as it passed through a village east of Ain-Issa, forcing the patrol to withdraw to avoid further engagement.
During August, the Turkish army further intensified its harassment of all border areas and sometimes beyond. On the 10th, the SOHR gave the following assessment of the first week of the month, counting from 3 to 9 August 8 drone attacks on vehicles, military positions but also a market near Hassaké, for a total of 9 dead, including 2 children and 7 SDF fighters, and 7 injured. At this date, the SOHR had counted 50 Turkish attacks since the beginning of the year, resulting in 3 civilian deaths, including 2 children, and 37 fighters, with more than 77 injured more or less seriously.
On the 8th, the SOHR spoke of an “undeclared [Turkish-Russian] agreement” when describing the Turkish withdrawal of 2 bases from the Tel Abyad (Raqqa) area. After firing several shells at the empty bases (!), the Russians advanced on the evacuated areas...
The Turkish army launched numerous artillery attacks on northern Aleppo province, resulting in civilian casualties. A woman wounded on 26 July died of her injuries on 1st August in Tell Rifaat, where on the 4th children were injured by a Turkish drone. On 2nd August, Turkish mortars targeted Manbij Military Council and regime army positions in several villages near the city. Further Turkish artillery bombardment on the 12th resulted in missiles being fired at a Syrian proxy military vehicle in response. On the 16th, the SOHR reported violent Turkish-Kurdish clashes west of Kobane, where “Turkish military escalation” caused “significant population displacement”. A SDF military vehicle was also reportedly targeted by a Turkish drone, and 5 Turkish soldiers were killed by SDF rockets. It should be noted that the city of Kobanê is home to a Russian military base (the former American base...). On the same day, a Turkish air strike killed or wounded 19 people near a regime military base in Tal Jariqli, west of Kobanê, without the SOHR being able to indicate immediately whether they were only Syrian soldiers or also civilians. The SDF said in a statement that “Turkish military aircraft” had carried out “12 air strikes against Syrian army positions deployed on the border strip west of Kobanê” (AFP). The Turkish army also fired more than 30 mortar shells at Kurdish-controlled villages near Afrin.
On the 24th, a Turkish drone attack on the market of Tel Rifaat, not far from the regime’s Military Security HQ, killed 2 civilians and injured 9. Conversely, on the 19th, in the Turkish-controlled town of al-Bab, pro-regime forces fired artillery into a market, killing 15 civilians, including children, and injuring 40. The SDF spokesman, Farhad Shami, assured that his forces had “nothing to do” with this strike (AFP).
The Turkish military also continued its pressure on the Hasaka region, and in particular the M4 motorway and the Christian town of Tel Tamr, where artillery bombardments and drone attacks took place. On the 3rd, a drone killed a member of the Tel Tamr military council. On the 8th, a regime checkpoint was targeted on a road north of Hasaka. Further strikes on the 9th again targeted Tel Tamr, killing a civilian in his home. On the 12th, further Turkish shelling on nearby villages killed two members of the town’s military council and injured two regime soldiers and a lieutenant. At the same time, the Turkish army brought reinforcements to the front line. On the 17th, a drone strike injured a member of the Tel Tamr Military Council...
One of the Turkish strikes has particularly moved observers. On the 18th, a Turkish drone attacked a SDF military post in Hasaka province, 45 km inside Syrian territory, killing 2 and wounding 3. The targeted site is near the Istrahat Wazir base where international coalition forces are stationed, on the Hasaka – Tel Tamr road. The next day, another drone strike in the same area, on a UN-sponsored training centre for girls, killed 4 minors and injured 11 others. The victims, originally recruited by Al-Shabiba Al-Thawriyah (“Revolutionary Youth”) to become female fighters, had been transferred to the centre by the SDF for return to their families, in accordance with the agreement against underage recruitment with the United Nations. They were killed while playing volleyball... (SOHR)
The city and region of Qamishli were also hit. On the 6th, a drone killed 4 people, including 2 children, in a residential area of the city. The drone targeted people digging trenches near a hospital. On 9 September, Damascus army positions and around 25 villages and towns in the Qamishili countryside were bombed. On the 10th, a civilian in front of his house in a village near Qamishli was the collateral victim of a Turkish drone strike targeting a SDF vehicle. The commander and the fighter on board were killed (SOHR). On the 11th, a civilian and 2 SDF members were killed in their vehicle by a drone strike in Qamishli (Rûdaw).
The Turkish gendarmes (jandarma) guarding the border continue to distinguish themselves by their abuses. Since the beginning of the year, they had already killed 13 civilians, including 3 children, and injured 20 others. These figures have increased again this month: near Kobanê, one of their armoured vehicles shot down on the 4th a civilian who was working in his field; on the 14th in Hasaka, they opened fire on a group trying to cross into Turkey, killing 1 civilian and wounding 3 others; on the 23rd, they beat up another civilian north of Aleppo. In addition, on the 15th they exchanged fire with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Darbasiyah.
Pro-Turkish Syrian factions continue their abuses in the Turkish-occupied territories, and in particular in Afrin. In particular, arrests on trumped-up charges to obtain ransoms from families are as common as ever.
On the 2nd, the so-called criminal court set up by the occupation and its militias sentenced to death a young father who was arrested at his home last April for “resisting” the Turkish forces and their auxiliaries during the invasion of Afrin. At the time, he was completing his compulsory military service with the YPG. Several other members of the same family were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 3 to 13 years. The convict’s wife received 12 years.
On 3 July, the SOHR published a damning assessment of the systematic violations committed during July by the Turkish-backed factions in the Afrin district. The NGO counted 68 abductions and arbitrary arrests for ransom, 47 human rights violations, accompanied by fratricidal fighting, noting in particular the death of 10 people. The violations involved the sale of 20 despoiled houses and 2 agricultural plots and the extortion of illegal “taxes” for the passage of goods, agricultural work or the construction of houses, all of which a simple pretext for racketeering. Some civilians resisting the felling of their fruit or olive trees or refusing to pay the “taxes” were violently beaten. Finally, the ransacking of classified archaeological sites continued. On this occasion, the SOHR renewed its repeated appeal to the international community to intervene.
Illegal felling of trees by the militia continued throughout the month, so numerous that it is impossible to report them all. Thousands of trees have been lost. The militia also continued to sell at low prices houses or flats stolen from displaced people or confiscated by force. In some cases, disputes between rival factions over the profits of looting have led to outright clashes, as in Shiran district on the 6th.
Several incidents have been reported this month that are characteristic of the disorderly state of the area. For example, members of the “military police” who tried to arrest members of factions had to give up after being attacked and beaten. A displaced activist from the Damascus region had demanded an investigation into 3 Jaish Al-Islam commanders, regarding their murky relationship with the regime’s security, and rapes they had committed in their areas of control... Arrested on 10 May, he was sentenced on 22 August by the Afrin “Military Court” to one year in prison and a fine of 2,000 Turkish Liras for “defamation, threatening to kill, undermining religious sentiment and insulting the National Army”. Clearly, Ankara’s mercenaries are frequently common criminals...
In another example of the endless violence in these territories, the Al-Mowali tribe recalled all its members after a section of the “National Army” supported by the Military Police tried to take control of the village of Kokan. The villagers severely beat the attackers, destroyed their vehicles and disarmed them. The SOHR reported violent exchanges with automatic weapons in the village on the 27th. The dispute had started with an unsuccessful attempt to arrest a tribesman.
AANES continues to try to manage the Al-Hol and Roj camps, where tens of thousands of jihadists or their relatives are still interned. The aim is to release those who can be released, to transfer to their country of origin those who must be tried there, and to ensure the security of the camps by repressing the ISIS cells that carry out numerous assassinations there. On the 12th, nearly 700 Iraqis, 620 relatives of fighters, men, women and children, and 50 leaders or fighters, were transferred from Al-Hol back to their country in coordination with the Iraqi authorities (AFP). On the 26th, the Kurdish security forces launched a multi-day operation in the camp which resulted in the arrest of 48 people suspected of several terrorist attacks (Rûdaw).
On the same day in France, lawyers published a press release in which they demanded the urgent repatriation for health reasons of several people detained in Roj, in particular, the alarming state of health of a minor child suffering from a heart disease, and that of a mother of two children hospitalised after a stroke. The undersigned say they are “flabbergasted” by the lack of response from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the numerous letters they have sent. On 5 July, 16 women and 35 minors were brought back to France, an event that marked a shift in the French position, which until then had been very hostile to repatriation, but it is clear that there are still French nationals in the Syrian camps. Asked by AFP, the ministry said they would be repatriated whenever possible. According to Reuters, at least 44 people, including 14 women, have been killed this year in the al-Hol camp.
The conflict between the US and Iran also spills over into Syria. On the 24th, the US Central Command (Centcom) announced that it had carried out air strikes the previous day in the province of Deir Ezzor against ammunition stockpiles belonging to pro-Iranian militias responsible for attacks on American troops on the 15th. The statement said: “The United States does not seek conflict with Iran, but we will continue to take the necessary steps to protect and defend our people”. On the 26th, pro-Iranian militias tried to retaliate by attacking the Conoco and Green Village sites, but the US military struck them before they could launch their rockets, killing four of them.
A mocking remark made by pop singer Gulsen in April to her musicians during a concert earned her the arrest on 25 August, though she had apologised on Twitter for calling graduates of the Imam and Islamic preacher training schools (Imam Hatip) “perverts”. But the artist, known for her support for LGBT people (she had notably unfurled the rainbow banner on stage), was already particularly unpopular with conservative Muslims forming the AKP’s electoral base. Gulsen is now accused of “inciting hatred and hostility” (Al-Monitor).
This appalling affair illustrates what can be expected until the parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for 18 June: facing the worst economic situation since he came to power and a sharp decline in popularity, Erdoğan is counting on the over-polarisation of society to keep himself in power. The singer Gulsen was an obvious vehicle for stirring up anti-secular sentiments. Likewise, Syrian refugees are stigmatised as profiteers stealing the work of the Turks and are increasingly subjected to aggression. Kurds who do not pledge allegiance to Erdogan are enemies of the interior and allies of terrorism. Finally, the economic crisis that the country is currently experiencing can only be due to Western countries, which are plotting Turkey’s ruin...
However, nothing says that these manoeuvres will be enough to ensure the staying in power of the Turkish president and his far-right allies of the MHP, while the economic situation does not show any sign of improvement, on the contrary. On 3 August, the Turkish Central Bank raised the forecast inflation rate for the end of the year from 42.8% to 60.4%, and on 20 August, the annual inflation forecast for July jumped to 79%. However, this did not stop the Turkish Central Bank, following the President’s theory that “higher interest rates cause inflation”, from lowering its rates again, a unique economic policy in the world.
As the defence of the currency and the $2 billion-a-month occupation of northern Syria drain the state coffers, the chosen recourse seems to be Russia, at the risk of Western sanctions. After his meeting with Vladimir Putin in Sochi on the 5th, Mr Erdoğan announced the adoption by five Turkish banks of the Russian Mir payment system. As for Russian oil, which Turkey has doubled purchases of since January, (Wall Street Journal) it will now be paid for in roubles.
According to the Washington Post, citing anonymous Ukrainian intelligence sources, the Russian president also asked his Turkish counterpart to help Russia circumvent Western sanctions. The means: the opening of correspondent accounts in Turkish state banks by major Russian banks under sanctions, and Russian equity investments in Turkish oil refineries, terminals and tanks. This would allow Russia to conceal its exports. While Erdoğan is unlikely to agree to such laundering, which would certainly expose Ankara to US sanctions, a somewhat more sophisticated set-up using a third country as a cover could be used. After all, recalls Al-Monitor, which reports the information, Turkey has demonstrated with the Halkbank case in the US its expertise in circumventing sanctions against Iran!
It should be recalled that so far Ankara remains the only NATO member country that has not imposed any sanctions on Moscow, which has allowed it to benefit from a continuous flow of Russian money that is particularly helpful in its present difficulties. This is not just public money. The oligarchs, not content to anchor their yachts in Turkey, also keep their money safe there. Turkey has also become the preferred transit country for Russia, whether for road, rail, air or sea transport... Moreover, in the context of the construction of the future nuclear power plant in Mersin, entrusted to Rosatom, the Russian company (not sanctioned) sent its Turkish subsidiary 5 billion dollars, part of which was temporarily placed in dollar bonds of the Turkish Ministry of Finance, a gift to Turkish foreign exchange reserves... (Le Monde) Finally, during the first half of 2022, Russian nationals opened 500 businesses in Turkey, more than double the score for all of 2021... (Wall Street Journal).
This strengthening of Turkish-Russian economic ties obviously worries the West. On the 22nd, the US Treasury warned in writing two major Turkish business associations, including TUSIAD (45,000 members), that companies that entered into relations with sanctioned Russian companies would themselves be exposed to sanctions. These warnings have hardly discouraged Turkish business leaders, especially since Turkish Finance Minister Nureddin Nebati has described any concerns about this as “meaningless” (Reuters).
As for Europe, it is likely to avoid too direct criticism of Ankara, which keeps its hand on the NATO membership of Sweden and Finland, while playing via the TurkStream pipeline the role of a transit corridor to Europe for part of the Russian gas ("European consumers should be grateful to Turkey for this uninterrupted flow of natural gas” said Putin in Sochi).
In the meantime, the incessant work of undermining and polarising society distilled by the AKP-MHP government continues to produce its deleterious effects in the country. On 30 July, 4 Alevi places of worship (cemevi) in Ankara (5 according to the Stockholm Centre for Freedom – SCF) were attacked in the middle of a ceremony, injuring a woman with a knife. On 2nd August, the “pro-Kurdish” HDP party condemned the attacks, accusing the anti-Alevi rhetoric of the government of being the cause. The different prayer places were hit in a row between 1.30 and 3.40 pm. The police arrested a single suspect, but the lawyer of the affected institutions, Hüsniye Şimşek, challenged this theory, saying that videos and witness descriptions made it possible to distinguish several perpetrators and that the attacks, carried out by one group, had therefore been “organised and prepared in advance”. On the 5th a new attack targeted the head of an Istanbul cemevi, Selami Saritas. Two men on motorbikes stopped him while he was in his car to ask for directions, but as soon as he rolled down his car window, they insulted him and tried to hit him. According to a 2020 report by the Freedom of Belief Initiative, more than half of the hate crimes committed in Turkey that year targeted Alevis (SCF).
Anxious not to lose the votes of an entire community, which according to various estimates represents 15 to 25% of the population, Mr Erdoğan went to the Huseyin Gazi Cemevi on the 8th following the attacks, his first visit to an Alevi temple since his election as president. The date was not chosen at random, as it corresponds to the Shiite festival of Ashura, celebrated by the Alevis. However, some members of the community refused to attend, saying that the visit was just a political show. At the same time, the Interior Ministry accused of the attacks a far-left group, the THKP-C, which denied any involvement (Al-Monitor).
As already mentioned, the Kurds are also targeted by the government, which exercises a relentless repression on the progressive HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party), often characterised as “pro-Kurdish” by the Western media, but which also incurs the wrath of the government for its defence of the country’s many “minorities”.
On the 6th, the HDP held a big rally in Diyarbakir denouncing the government’s anti-Kurdish wars, in Turkey itself, but also in Syria and Iraq. A second rally on the same theme took place the next day in Istanbul. The authorities tried to prevent these rallies by launching a wave of preventive arrests, notably in Istanbul (12 people arrested) and in Antalya (4 people) (WKI). However, both rallies could be held, with HDP co-chairs Pervin Buldan and Mithat Sancar present. In Istanbul, the co-spokesperson of the Peoples’ Democratic Congress (HDK), Cengiz Çiçek, said: “Those who present themselves as ambassadors of peace in the Ukraine-Russia war are imposing war on the Kurdish people in all geographical locations” (HDP).
While thousands of party officials, MPs and ordinary members are still imprisoned on terrorism charges, including its former co-chairmen Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yuksekdağ, and many of its elected municipal officials have been removed and replaced by pro-AKP kayyım (administrators), the crackdown continues. On the very day of the Diyarbakir rally, the lawyer of the detained Aysel Tugluk, Serdar Celebi, announced that the court had ordered her continued detention, despite her having dementia. The former HDP vice-president was sentenced in 2018 to 10 years in prison for “belonging to a terrorist organisation” because of her activities in the “Congress for a Democratic Society” (DTK). However, “the judges saw with their own eyes that Ms Tugluk did not understand the questions put to her and was not capable of presenting a defence”. Nevertheless, they refused have her transferred to a hospital.
On the 12th, the Constitutional Court in turn rejected Tugluk’s request for release. However, it ordered an emergency measure so that the detainee could receive treatment and regular neurological and psychiatric consultations in a hospital (AFP).
In parallel, HDP co-chair Mithat Sancar met with the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Turkey (KDP-T) to discuss the possibility of a “Democratic Alliance” for the 2023 elections. This could bring together with the HDP other Kurdish and left-wing parties.
The “main” opposition to the AKP-MHP coalition, led by the Kemalist CHP, which also includes the far-right İYİ party (a scission from the MHP), is careful to keep its distance from the HDP. Yet it knows that the HDP vote holds part of the key to the outcome of the upcoming elections: the CHP mayor of Istanbul thus owes his victory over the AKP candidate in the last municipal elections to the fact that the HDP refrained from fielding a candidate against him... Thus, the CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroğlu went earlier this month, accompanied by his Kurdish-speaking wife Selvi, to the village of Roboski, where the Turkish air force had killed 34 civilians in 2011. He met with relatives of the victims, promising them justice (Al-Monitor). But the Kurds are familiar with such charm offensives, which they are regularly the targets of before elections. They have been in the AKP school and know full well that after the elections, they give way to a renewal of repression...
The opposition once again showed its unwillingness to coordinate with the progressive and Kurdish movement when it met for the 6e time on the 21st in Ankara to discuss the designation of a single candidate for the next presidential elections... excluding the HDP from this meeting. At the end of this meeting, the opposition leaders announced their willingness to oppose Mr Erdoğan with a single candidate whose identity will be announced after a new meeting on October 2.
This strategy of exclusion is not without risks, as shown by an incident in the parliament at the end of July: in the absence of the HDP, the opposition failed to reach the quorum necessary to hold a session on “violence against health workers”. The HDP had not received an invitation from the opposition, which merely made a general appeal to the opposition blocs to join...
After the success of the large meetings organised by the HDP in Diyarbakir and Istanbul, the authorities continued their repression of the party. The police carried out numerous raids on the homes of members and leaders and arrested 8 people in Mersin, 20 in Adana, 4 in Van, 2 in Diyarbakir, and 15 in Izmir and Manisa, while the Hatay Prosecutor General launched criminal proceedings against several Kurds for chanting pro-Kurdish slogans in 2015. On the 15th, HDP parliamentary group wrote an open letter to the President of the Parliament asking for an investigation into the human rights violations committed in Syria in the territories under Turkish occupation by the so-called “National Army” (WKI). The text begins by recalling the “extortion, torture, looting, harassment, rape and extrajudicial killings” committed by these armed groups and covered “for a long time” in “the international press and NGO reports”, as well as “the report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria affiliated to the UN Human Rights Council”. The letter also accuses the government of having for the past 10 years “virtually ignored the crimes committed by these criminal networks and observed by the whole world”. Recalling how “the AKP government has used armed groups derived from al-Qaeda, some of which also had joint activities with [ISIS]”, the text calls for a parliamentary enquiry into “the actions of these groups” in order to “reveal how they are protected and with what resources they are supported financially and logistically” (HDP).
In the last week of the month, police again made arrests, including 6 people in Ankara, for posts critical of the government on social networks. In Urfa, the father of a Roboski victim was arrested without a warrant.
Beyond the political field, it is always the simple fact of being Kurdish and daring to express one’s belonging publicly that provokes repression. In this respect, the AKP government is now totally in line with the institutional anti-Kurdish discrimination practised by the Republic of Turkey since its creation and in an almost continuous manner. In the cultural sphere, the world-renowned Kurdish soprano Pervin Chakar has just fallen victim. The University of Mardin, her home town, decided to cancel the concert she was to give there because she had included a Kurdish-language piece in the programme. Chakar, who has performed at La Scala in Milan, Vienna and most recently in Paris, said in an interview with Al-Monitor on the 10th, her first since making her story public, that she was not “surprised” but rather “saddened” by the university’s decision. Many Kurdish artists have encountered this kind of problem recently, such as Aynur Dogan, Mem Ararat, and even Kurdish bands performing during private weddings have been worried... Regarding Chakar, Abdurrahman Kurt, a former AKP MP and member of the party’s Executive Council, insists that the suppression of Kurdish concerts is not a government policy and that he personally opposed these measures. Chakar acknowledged that Kurt had tried to reverse the decision of Artuklu University, but without success. It seems that in this case the rector of the university, himself a Kurd, acted out of fear of losing his position, which says a lot about the prevailing atmosphere.
As several such cases have already shown, anti-Kurdish discrimination and contempt extends even to the dead. The Diyarbakir Bar Association filed a complaint this month with the Judges and Prosecutors Council (HSK) against a prosecutor who returned to two families the bones of their child killed in fighting with the Turkish army in a box or plastic bag. This practice, which violates international standards of respect and protection of the dead, has been repeated since the 1990s. For example, one father told the Mezopotamya news agency that he received the bones of his 12-year-old son in a bag 20 years after his arrest in Mardin in 1995, although he expected to receive his remains in a coffin. The bar association said: “National and international law sets out in detail how such deliveries should be carried out, respecting the memory of the person and protecting the right to be buried. This treatment of the deceased constitutes the crime of torture and ill-treatment. This practice violates the standards of respect and protection of the dead and the right to a decent burial” (Kurdistan au Féminin).
Finally, the region of Mardin was hit by 4 very serious road accidents on the morning of the 20th , resulting in numerous deaths. There were two groups of two related accidents. The first occurred on the highway between Gaziantep and Nizip, when a passenger bus collided with rescue teams working at the scene of an earlier accident, killing 16 people and injuring 22 others. The Turkish news agency Ilhas said two of its journalists were killed after stopping to help victims of the first accident (Al-Jazeera). A few hours later, 150 kilometres away, west of Derik (Mardin province), a truck whose brakes failed ran off the road and crashed into a busy footbridge, killing at least 19 people and injuring 26 others. Again, the accident occurred while medical personnel were already attending to an earlier accident between a semi-trailer and two other vehicles (Express [USA]). In total, at least 35 people were killed in these multiple accidents.
The tragedy provoked public and opposition anger over the safety standards of cargo companies. HDP co-chair Mithat Sancar blamed the government, calling on those responsible, especially the Interior minister, to resign. To contain the public reaction, the authorities banned the media from covering the Mardin accident, but allowed journalists to write about the Gaziantep accident... (WKI)
The official Iranian rhetoric has suddenly hardened regarding the objectives of the country’s nuclear programme. Until now, the official communication repeated over and over again that the programme was aimed exclusively at civilian use. Didn’t the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issue a fatwa against nuclear weapons in 2005? But on 17 July, Kamal Kharazi, one of his advisers, suggested that Iran had the capacity to build a nuclear weapon, but that the decision had not yet been taken. On the 29 July, a video posted on a Telegram channel of the Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) asked: “When will Iran’s sleeping nuclear bomb wake up?”, and on 1er August, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, Mohammad Eslami, again mentioned the question (Farda).
It may be that these statements are intended to increase the pressure on the West to obtain better terms in a new agreement. But they do reflect a reality: IAEA chief Rafael Grossi warned on the 2nd that Iran’s programme is “advancing very, very rapidly” and “gaining in ambition and capability” (Reuters). These declarations also coincide with an Iranian-Russian rapprochement, partly motivated by Western sanctions on both countries, which worries the West. On the 9th of this month, Russia successfully launched the Iranian Khayyam intelligence satellite from Kazakhstan. This event puts back in the spotlight an Iranian space program somewhat forgotten, and which, worry the United States, regularly increases Iranian capabilities in terms of ballistic missiles... In a more down-to-earth manner, Tehran has just concluded a 40 billion dollars memorandum of understanding with Gazprom, under which the Russian company is to restore the Iranian energy infrastructures (L’Express).
In the meantime, on the 4th, the indirect Iran-US talks resumed in Vienna, with a meeting between the Iranian chief negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, and the European Union’s special envoy, Enrique Mora, who is playing the role of mediator between Washington and Teheran. For this first meeting in 11 months, none of the parties involved, Washington, Tehran or Brussels, is very optimistic about the chances of success. While Kani said it was up to Washington to make concessions, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said: “We’re not going to wait forever for Iran to agree to the deal”... (Reuters)
A few days after this meeting, the European Union submitted what it presented as “the final text”, non-negotiable, warning that there were only “a few weeks” to conclude. While Washington indicated that it was ready to sign as is, Tehran refused to block the content, before sending its response on the 15th. The EU said on the 17th that it was studying the response, and the US said it would inform the EU of its views on the Iranian response in private. There were rumours that the Iranian message had been considered “constructive”, without being overly optimistic. On the 24th, unnamed US officials said that Iran had dropped some of its demands – but Iranian officials appear to have contradicted these claims (Farda). However, after the US response, in the words of Al-Monitor, “the ping-pong continued”. It seems that Tehran insists on closing the IAEA investigation into its undeclared activities as a key condition, but the details of the ongoing discussions have not been made public. As of the end of the month, no agreement had been announced. A glimmer of hope, both sides know how disastrous the consequences of failure would be for them...
Another factor of tension with Iran was the attack on 12 December in Canada on the writer Salman Rushdie, who was stabbed during a conference. Rushdie has been targeted since 1989 by a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini condemning him to death, which has never been lifted. While Tehran denied any involvement in the attack, which the writer survived, the conservative Iranian press was overjoyed, especially the daily Keyhan, whose editor-in-chief is directly appointed by the Supreme Leader. Asit happens, the latter had declared in 2017 that the conviction was still valid... Moreover, Tehran has never hesitated to strike at its dissidents or enemies outside its borders, as the Kurdish opposition parties know only too well... Thus, on the 10th, the US Department of Justice unveiled criminal charges against Shahram Poursafi, a member of the pasdaran, accused of having tried to orchestrate an assassination attempt against former National Security Advisor John Bolton, and this is just one of the most recent cases linked to Iranian state terrorism... (New York Times).
The Islamic Republic, from its inception, has led the campaign of assassinations, kidnappings and intimidation abroad that continues to this day. For example, on the 16th, an appeal court in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, upheld the death sentences of 3 men convicted of the March 2018 murder of a Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDP-I) peshmerga commander named Qadir Qadiri. Two other defendants were sentenced to 5 years in prison. The court also ruled that Qadiri’s case was a terrorist case. The assassination was orchestrated by Iran...
Inside the country, the government, faced with growing resistance from society, is responding by increasing its attempts at social control and repression. Those in the cultural sphere have been tightened recently, with dozens of concerts and events banned in recent weeks. Earlier this month, human rights activist Maryam Karimbeigi was sentenced to more than three years in prison for attending a concert by a popular Iranian singer in Turkey. A few days earlier, security guards interrupted a music concert in Tehran while the musicians were already on stage. This new hardening is concomitant with that concerning women’s clothing, with the implementation in July of a new law on the hijab (which must now also cover the shoulders) and greater severity in this regard (HRANA).
Intimidation, or government by terror, is clearly an objective of the authorities. It was learned on the 3rd that the authorities had proceeded on 27 July to amputate the fingers of a prisoner convicted of theft, using the rotating blade machine recently installed in Evin prison (Tehran). According to Amnesty International, which speaks of an “unspeakably cruel punishment”, Pouya Torabi was not given an anaesthetic before the operation. At least 8 other prisoners are at risk of this barbaric punishment (HRANA).
Iran also came to the attention of the international community in early August for its crackdown on the Baha’i religious minority. Their persecution and discrimination against them has never really stopped over the years, but this month it has taken on an alarmingly systematic character, with new arrests and destruction of homes. Bani Dugal, the UN representative of the Baha’i International Community, said Iran arrested 52 Baha’is in July, raided dozens of homes, closed businesses and demolished property. The authorities accused those detained of being spies with links to Israel. To give just one example, on 2 July, around 200 Security and Intelligence officers carried out quite a full-scale military operation against the small Baha’i village of Roshankouh (Mazanderan). After blocking the access roads, they fired shots in the air and pepper sprayed the villagers, before bulldozing 6 homes and farmland. The mobile phones of the inhabitants were confiscated to prevent them from spreading information about the raid. A few days before, 3 community leaders and 13 members had been arrested across Iran. In addition, Baha’is continue to be denied university enrolment under false pretences. At the end of August, HRANA (Human Rights Activists News Agency) had identified 64 who had been refused registration on the grounds of “incomplete records”. In the case of Roshankouh, the local prosecutor, who is a mullah, defended the operation as being about “protecting the environment”, which would have been encroached upon by the destroyed houses (New York Times). On the 10th, a group of 70 Iranian activists, academics and artists, in Iran and abroad, condemned the persecution in a joint statement. Among the signatories were Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi and former political prisoner Atena Daemi (Farda). On the 22nd, UN human rights experts urged the Iranian authorities to end “the persecution and harassment of religious minorities and to stop using religion to restrict the exercise of fundamental rights”.
In Kurdistan, killings of cross-border carriers (kolbars) by security forces continued. On the 2nd, the KHRN reported that in July, at least 2 kolbars had been killed by border guards and 30 injured, 10 of whom fell while fleeing the attack or were hit by mines. The Hengaw organisation reported 3 dead and 34 injured, with 24 cases of direct fire resulting in 3 dead and 21 injured. It should be remembered that these porters are almost never armed and therefore pose no danger to the border forces, who systematically shoot them on sight.
On the 3rd, HRANA reported that police killed 2 children near Khorramabad on 31 July by shooting at a vehicle near a checkpoint. The young victims are two brothers, aged 9 and 13; the parents, themselves seriously injured, have been transferred to an unknown location. According to an informed source, the police shot at the vehicle without prior warning. According to HRANA’s annual report, in 2021, 242 citizens were targeted by uncontrolled fire from the regime’s military forces, of whom 94 were killed. In addition, border guards killed a Kurdish porter near Salas-e Babajani on the 12th and injured four others in Baneh and Nowsud. In the 3rd week of the month, another kolbar was killed and 12 others injured near Baneh, while 2 others were injured by mines in the same area. Finally, at the end of the month, 2 more kolbars were shot dead near Baneh, while a mine from the Iran-Iraq war killed a 70-year-old man near Gilanegharb (WKI).
In addition, arrests were made in Iranian Kurdistan throughout the month. On the 4th, the Intelligence Ministry claimed to have arrested ten “terrorists” belonging to ISIS who were planning attacks on the Shiite religious celebrations of Ashura. According to the statement, those arrested were from Iraq and Turkey. These arrests follow others made in July of several members of a Kurdish opposition party, accused of espionage and planning attacks on behalf of Israel. The ministry also accused Israel of using “takfiris” (jihadists) to strike Iran (AFP). The Iranian Kurdish party Komala had already accused the intelligence service of spreading false information after 4 of its peshmerga, arrested in mid-July near Ouroumieh, were accused of having links with Mossad, the Israeli secret service. The party had accused the authorities of trying to use this propaganda as a pretext to increase repression in Kurdistan. At the beginning of August, 9 Kurdish human rights organisations made the same accusation, asking the authorities to reveal the fate of these 4 prisoners, who were put in solitary confinement after their arrest (WKI).
At the same time, a court sentenced a Kurdish trade union activist, Rebwar Abdullahi, to two years in prison for membership of a banned Kurdish party. Security forces also arrested two activists, Shadi Dargahai and Logman Grami, in Marivan (WKI).
On the 2nd, the KHRN published its report on human rights violations against the Kurds in Iran for July. In addition to the killings of kolbars, which we have already mentioned, the NGO lists 8 executions, including those of 6 prisoners sentenced for premeditated murder and 2 for drug-related offences. In fact, the number is probably higher, as the authorities keep a large number of executions secret. In addition, at least 49 people were arrested and imprisoned, including the 4 Komala peshmerga mentioned above, and 3 people were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 2 to 5 years. Finally, on 29 July, the police killed a 20-year-old man from Kamyaran (Kordestan province) near Ahvaz in Khuzestan. According to the Hengaw organisation, since Ebrahim Raisi came to power, 600 Kurds have been arrested and 64 executed, including the political prisoners Haider Qurbai and Fairoz Musaloo.
In the first week of August, security forces arrested several activists: 2 in Oshnavieh, 2 in Marivan, and 1 in Sanandaj. The following week, 5 more people were arrested in Oshnavieh, while armed clashes took place near Saqqez between the Pashdaran and a PDKI-affiliated group, the “Eagles of Zagros”, forcing the authorities to close the Saqqez-Marivan road. At the same time, an unidentified group attacked an Iranian army post near Urmia. According to Hengaw, a large military force was deployed along the Iraqi border from Oshnavieh to Piranshahr (WKI). On the 16th, security forces arrested without showing a warrant another 5 people in the village of Geok Tepe (Mahabad), before holding them incommunicado (HRANA). Three other arrests took place in Miandoab, while a criminal court in Urmia sentenced a Kurd from Turkey named Mohammed Pirdal to 16 years in prison for membership of the PKK (WKI). On 24 August, 5 residents of Sanandaj were each sentenced to 4 years in prison for “propaganda against the regime, collaboration with one of the anti-regime parties and formation of illegal groups”. The next day, a resident of Shahin-Dej was arrested and transferred to Miandoab. Other arrests took place on the 30th in Oshnavieh and Mahabad. In Sanandaj, the Etelaat (Intelligence) warned female activist Arazo Amjadi to refrain from participating in social events or activities (HRANA).
Economic conditions continue to provoke protests. On the 25th, truckers working for mining companies in Qorveh (Kordestan) went on strike to demand better pay for their freight. In Urmia, a number of drivers protested on the 28th in front of the town hall against the non-payment of their last 3 months’ wages. Furthermore, the 4 members of the Kurdistan Teachers’ Association arrested in Divandarreh on 15 June after the teachers’ protests are still detained without access to a lawyer or visits from their families. Despite repeated requests from their families, the authorities refuse to release them on parole. They are far from being the only imprisoned Kurdish teachers (HRANA).
Finally, on the 24th it was reported that activist Sa’ada Khadirzadeh had attempted on the 18th to hang herself with her scarf in Urmia prison. According to unverified sources, before her suicide attempt, she also tried to kill her infant child with pills. Arrested last October in Piranshahr, she had given birth in Urmia hospital last June. The reason for her arrest and the charges against her are still unknown. She and her child are still being treated in the prison infirmary.
Concerning the Kurdish national movement in Iran, the most important news of this period is undoubtedly the announcement of the reunification of the two branches of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDP-I), which had been separated for 16 years. On the 21st of this month, these two parties, the PDKI and the KDP-I, exiled in Iraqi Kurdistan, announced that their negotiations had led to a reunification. Founded in 1945 and having played an important role during the period of the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad, the PDKI was banned in Iran after the Islamic Revolution as a terrorist organisation (AFP). To commemorate their reunification, the two parties held a ceremony attended by the leaders of the KDP-I and the PDKI, Mustafa Hijri and Khalid Azizi, who agreed that they would lead the party jointly, one as interim leader and the other as spokesperson, until the next congress, scheduled for 2023. The Kurdish political parties in Iranian Kurdistan and elsewhere welcomed this news. The Komala party, which has also been separated into two components since a split, is also in discussions to manage to reunify and, beyond that, to form a united front against the Iranian regime with other Kurdish parties in exile.
On 2 August, the French parliament ratified the NATO membership of Sweden and Finland. The deputies adopted the text by 209 votes to 46 with the support of the LR (right-wing), the Socialist Party (PS) and the ecologists, the abstention of the RN (far-right) and the vote against of La France Insoumise (left-wing). According to French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, France joins “twenty allies” who “have already ratified the protocols”. The next day, Italy in turn ratified the same protocols. On the 4th, the US Senate, the only body in United States empowered to ratify international agreements, approved the resolution by a very large majority, with elected representatives from both parties (95 votes for, 1 against). On the 9th, US President Joe Biden initialled the ratification, making it a final decision. Sweden and Finland need ratification by all 30 member states of the organisation in order to benefit from the protection of Article 5 of its Charter, which provides for a joint response in the event of an attack against one of its members.
However, NATO membership for Sweden and Finland is not yet a done deal. Turkey is still threatening to freeze the process. After the signing of a tripartite memorandum at the end of June, Ankara had sent extradition requests to both countries for 33 people, most of them considered as “terrorists” by Ankara. But as of 18 August, these requests had still not been answered, in particular those concerning people accused of belonging to the Gulenist network. Turkey’s justice minister said he was disappointed by the announcement of the extradition of a single Turkish national accused of fraud: “If they think they can make Turkey believe they have kept their promises by extraditing common criminals, they are mistaken,” Bekir Bozdağ told the daily Milliyet (AFP).
Turkey therefore resumed its accusations of benevolence towards the PKK and its allies, which Ankara also considers to be terrorist organisations, against Sweden and Finland (but more particularly against Stockholm). A Finnish-hosted meeting on 19 August with Sweden and Turkey failed to break the deadlock, as did a second session on 26 August. Finland and Sweden “reiterated their commitment, enshrined in the trilateral memorandum, to show full solidarity and cooperation with Turkey in the fight against all forms and manifestations of terrorism,” a Turkish statement said. They promised once again to examine the case of suspects accused of involvement in the 2016 coup attempt will be examined, as will that of Kurdish militants. The Finnish Foreign Ministry said a new tripartite meeting would be held in the autumn... NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had said in June that Sweden and Finland should plan “to continue to amend their national legislation, crack down on PKK activities and conclude an extradition agreement with Turkey” (International Affairs).
On the evening of 10 August, Aine Leslie Davis, a 38-year-old British man and suspected member of the ISIS group nicknamed the “Beatles” because of their British accent, a cell specialising in the capture, torture and execution of Western hostages, was arrested at London’s Luton airport, where he was arriving after being deported from Turkey. He was brought to court the following day. Sentenced in Turkey in 2015 to seven and a half years in prison for terrorist offences, he had been deported at the end of his sentence.
The four members of the group are accused of kidnapping at least 27 journalists and aid workers from the US, UK, Europe, New Zealand, Russia and Japan. They are also suspected of torturing and killing, including by beheading, American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as aid workers such as Peter Kassig.
On the 19th, another member of this group, 34-year-old El Shafee el-Sheikh, was sentenced to life imprisonment by a US court. In fact, he received 8 simultaneous life sentences for his role in the deaths of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff as well as aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. Arrested in 2018 by the Syrian Democratic Forces (Kurds) along with another alleged member of the “Beatles”, Alexanda Kotey, he was handed over to US forces in Iraq. The two men were sent to the United States in 2020 for trial. Alexanda Kotey pleaded guilty in September 2021, and has already been sentenced to life imprisonment last April by the same judge who just sentenced el-Sheikh.
The best known member of this group, Mohammed Emwazi, aka “Jihadi John”, was killed by a US drone strike in Syria in 2015.
The el-Sheikh trial has revealed the atrocities inflicted by the group on its prisoners, with ten former European and Syrian hostages testifying about them. They include simulated drowning, electric shocks or mock executions.