After an August crackdown particularly targeting the Baha’i community, Iran drew attention in early September with the sentencing to death of two lesbian activists, Zahra Sediqi Hamedani, 31, and Elham Chubdar, 24, in Urmia, for, among other things, “spreading corruption on earth", and “promoting Christianity”. The human rights organisation Hengaw notes in reporting these convictions that the judicial authorities in Urmia are among the harshest on LGBT+ people. According to AFP, a third woman, arrested on the same charges and also detained in Urmia prison, Soheila Ashrafi, 52, was on the 6th awaiting her verdict. This is reportedly the first time that women have been sentenced to death in Iran because of their sexual orientation. On the 28th, the independent experts of the UN Human Rights Committee called on Iran to “stay the execution” and “reverse their sentence as soon as possible”. They have received no response from Tehran (AFP). In addition, according to several NGOs, the arrival in power of Raisi has led to a 25% increase in death sentences throughout the country (La Croix). For nearly 10 days at the beginning of September, families of condemned prisoners demonstrated throughout the country to demand a halt to their execution (Farda).
As for the possibility of an agreement on the country’s nuclear programme, after hopes of a rather positive outcome at the end of August, the beginning of this month has been marked by pessimism, with Tehran accused of dragging its feet. The United States in particular has criticised the Iranian response to the text submitted by the European Union as “unconstructive” or even “leading backwards”. Tehran is said to have asked for the IAEA to abandon its investigation into the origin of the nuclear material discovered at its three undeclared sites... The prospect of reaching a signature before the American mid-term elections in November therefore seems to be receding. In parallel, the IAEA indicated on the 7th that the Iranian stock of highly enriched uranium was increasing rapidly while its inspection work remained hampered (Al-Monitor). On the 27th, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that Iran was ready to cooperate with the IAEA on its 3 undeclared sites and that, once the new nuclear agreement signed, the agency’s inspectors would have access “beyond safeguards” (Al-Monitor). However, earlier this month, the Iranian Defence Ministry said it had protected 51 cities in the country against “biological, radiological and chemical attacks” (AFP): one hence wonders if these commitments are true or if the regime is just trying to buy time...
In Kurdistan, arrests, convictions and killings of cross-border carriers (kolbars) continued. In Ilam, the activist Ahmed Darza was sentenced at the beginning of this month to 4 years and 4 months in prison for “propaganda against the state”. In Piranshahr, another activist received 2 years and 7 months for “belonging to a Kurdish opposition party", and 7 people were arrested in Bokan and Sanandaj (WKI). On the 9th, Amnesty International launched an “urgent action” regarding the Kurdish dissident Edris Feqhi, victim of enforced disappearance (https://www.amnesty.org/fr/documents/mde13/6020/2022/fr/). Declared dead by state media during armed clashes in July 2021 between members of the Kurdish party PJAK and the Pasdaran, but possibly only wounded, Feqhi has since reportedly been identified by witnesses in a Pasdaran detention centre in Urmia. Officials have never stopped torturing his relatives with contradictory statements, even encouraging them at one point to apply for a visit...
In Sanandaj, Kurdish activist Kazhal Nasri was sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment for membership in the PDKI, and in Mahabad, Suda Khadirza was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment for the same membership and for killing an intelligence officer, which she denied. On the 19th, security forces arrested 6 Kurds in Piranshahr, and another person was sentenced to 2 years and 7 months imprisonment for membership in the PDKI (WKI).
The kolbars are always the target of the repressive forces, who systematically open fire on them in the mountains, even though they are unarmed. According to a report by Kolbernews, at least 26 kolbars have died and 164 have been wounded in the last 6 months, at least 80% of them by the army or the pasdaran. According to Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN), at least 46 kolbars have died in 2021, 17 killed by Iranian forces and 4 by Turkish forces. One minor kolbar committed suicide after border guards confiscated his mules. Earlier this month, 6 kolbars were wounded by direct fire near Baneh and Nowsud, in the week of the 12th another was killed near Nowsud and 3 others wounded, and Turkish forces killed another porter near Khoy. By the 13th, the Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) reported 16 wounded since early September.
It should be noted that at the beginning of the month, Kurdistan experienced demonstrations by women protesting against insecurity, in a way premonitory of the events that later concerned Mahsa Amini... The demonstrations took place after the death of a young woman from Marivan, Şilêr Resul, who was the victim of an attempted rape by a pro-regime man, Goran Qassimpour. To escape him, Resul had no choice but to throw herself from a window. She died of her injuries after five days in hospital. According to the Hengaw organisation, the protesters gathered outside the Meriwan courthouse, chanting “We are all Şiler. We will avenge Şiler’s blood” (Kurdistan au Féminin). Several Kurdish human rights organisations and political parties called for Qassimpour to be brought to justice and accused him of belonging to the Pasdaran (WKI).
Iran is probably one of the only countries where demonstrations against insecurity do not denounce outlaws, but those who are supposed to maintain order, the Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran)... This state of affairs was sadly repeated a few days later, after a young Kurdish woman of 22 years old from Saqqez, Jîna Mahsa Amini, arrested on the 13th in the capital by the dreaded “morality police” (in Persian Gasht-e Ershad, “orientation patrol”), died on the 16th in Tehran’s Kasra hospital after being in a coma for three days. The family had come to spend a few days in the capital, before the young girl entered university in her region of origin.
Following the announcement of her death, family members and civilians gathered outside the hospital to pay their respects and protest. The security forces attacked the gathering and arrested several people. On the 18th, the KHRN also alerted on the lack of information on the fate of a Kurd from Sanandaj residing in Tehran, Zanyar Mohammadnezhad, who had been arrested in front of the hospital and held incommunicado with several other people.
This was followed by another demonstration, held just after Amini’s funeral on the 17th in her home town of Saqqez, even before a forensic doctor could examine her. According to Fars news agency, the ceremony was followed by slogans calling for an investigation, before thousands of the city’s residents gathered in front of the governor’s office with more slogans and stone-throwing against the building. Some women burned their hijab. The rally was “dispersed by security forces who fired tear gas” (AFP). Then on the evening of the 18th, “about 500 people gathered” in Sanandaj, capital of the Kurdistan province “and shouted slogans against the country’s leaders”. The demonstrators “smashed the windows of some cars, set fire to rubbish bins”, and again “the police used tear gas to disperse the crowd” and made arrests, Fars reported. These initial demonstrations were followed by many others, which quickly spread from Kurdistan to the whole country, and grew in size until the end of the month, while the controversy continued to grow over the causes of the young woman’s death.
The Tehran police were quick to claim that they bore no responsibility for Amini’s death, stating that “there was no physical contact” between her and their officers. On the same day that her death was announced, state television broadcast a short surveillance video to support this version. It showed a woman, identified as Mahsa Amini, collapsing suddenly in what must have been a room in the morality police detention centre as she stood up to talk to a “female instructor”. The television station cited a sudden “heart problem", but this explanation did not convince the protesters: it is difficult to find an Iranian woman or man in the country who has not been confronted in his or her life with the brutal attitude of this unit aimed at enforcing the “Islamic” norms of dress that the government seeks to impose. The official agency Fars itself echoed this: many Iranians were immediately “convinced that Mahsa died under torture”.
The father of the young victim, Amjad Amini, told Iraq’s Kurdish channel Rûdaw on the 19th that his daughter had been “beaten inside a police vehicle while in custody, which led to her premature death”. In support of this statement, he quoted this testimony: “The women in the ambulance said that she was hit on the head”. He added that the authorities had refused to give him the results of the autopsy. The family was also quick to deny all allegations about the girl’s medical history, heart problems, brain tumour etc, designed to clear the police... “Her body was well covered so we couldn’t see the bruises, especially on her legs”, her father told the Iranian website Rouydad24 in an interview. “The girls who were in the police van with Mahsa called me to tell me that she had been physically abused by the police”. Much later in the month, on the 28th, this version of events was confirmed to AFP by Erfan Mortezayi, Jîna Mahsa Amini’s cousin in Iraqi Kurdistan. He said he got his information from the victim’s mother, who was contacted by telephone: the police officers slapped the girl in front of her brother, before hitting her with a stick “on the hands and legs”. After neutralising the brother by pepper-spraying his face, they put Mahsa in a van where the beatings continued: “When they hit her on the head with the stick, she lost consciousness”. Moreover, once at the detention centre, she was not taken to hospital immediately: “It took at least another hour and a half before she was taken to hospital”, said Mortezayi (AFP).
The suspicious death caused a huge stir throughout the country: on the 18th, the hashtag #Mahsa_Amini in Persian was at the top of the trends with almost 1.5 million tweets, and the case was on the front page of almost all newspapers. Protests demanding “clarification” began at several universities, including Tehran and Shahid Beheshti (Tasnim). In Tehran, on the evening of the 19th, on Hejab Street (“Islamic Veil Street”), hundreds of people gathered, again chanting slogans, with women removing their hijab and shouting “Death to the Islamic Republic”. BBC footage showed other women also removing their headscarves and shouting “Death to the dictator”, in reference to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In Kurdistan, despite the threats of the regime, which sent many troops there, the towns went on general strike: Saqqez, of course, where Amini was from, but also Sanandaj, Baneh, Bokan, Divandareh, Jawanro, Kamyaran, Kermanshah, Mahabad, Marivan, Naghadeh, Oshnavieh, Ourmia, Piranshahr... Quite often, women took the lead in the protests with, among other things, the well-known slogan “Woman, life, freedom!” (“Jin, Jiyan, Azadi!”), well known to those who have followed the Rojava revolution from a distance. Many of them were injured by the attacks of the repressive forces. According to the Hengaw organisation, in Saqqez, another demonstration resulted in the death of 2 participants when security forces opened fire on the crowd with live ammunition, while 2 others were also shot dead in Divandarreh (Reuters). On the 20th, 215 people had been injured across Iranian Kurdistan (WKI).
Faced with the scale of the reactions, President Raisi telephoned the girl’s family on the evening of the 18th to assure them that he would “continue the investigation until the case is clarified” (AFP), and the next day the representative of the Supreme Guide in Kurdistan, Abdolreza Pourzahabi, went to the family home in Saqqez. These gestures, reflecting the concern of the authorities, had no effect on the demonstrations. On the 21st, in Kermanshah, in Kurdistan, 2 new demonstrators were killed, bringing the official death toll to 6, but in the evening, according to the IRNA agency, the demonstrators again “took to the streets of some fifteen cities in Iran, blocking traffic, setting fire to bins and police vehicles, throwing stones at the security forces and chanting slogans against the government. The police used tear gas and made arrests to disperse the crowd” (AFP). The demonstrations went on well into the night. Many women no longer wore their headscarves, and some even burned them in the middle of the street, to applause. Some Iranian women also “decided to cut their hair to show their indignation”.
“This is the first time I have seen this”, political scientist and sociologist Mahnaz Shirali told the Swiss daily Le Temps. According to her, the case has shattered the cautious retreat of the youth: “The youth is waking up after having taken refuge in indifference, a self-defence mechanism. […] But Mahsa Amini’s death was a huge shock, because she was innocence itself. She was not politicised. All the Iranian women who had to deal with the morality police thought that they could have suffered the same fate”.
Faced with the public’s anger, several government officials showed their concern by taking unusually critical stances towards the Gasht-e Ershad: MP Jalal Rashidi Koochi questioned its usefulness, his colleague Moeenoddin Saeedi indicated his intention to call for its abolition, and the Speaker of Parliament, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, deemed that the conduct of this unit needed to be investigated to avoid other similar cases... On the 17th, a senior Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Asadollah Bayat Zanjani, described the police’s behaviour as “illegal, irrational and illegitimate”... At the same time, those responsible for the crackdown began to make threats. The governor of Tehran, Mohsen Mansouri, said on Twitter that the demonstrations in the capital were “organised with the sole aim of creating unrest”... (AFP) Everywhere, the forces of repression began to shoot into the crowd, but first in Kurdistan, where the demonstrations had started.
According to statistics collected by the Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN), by the 22nd at least 12 demonstrators had been killed in Urmia, Oshnavieh, Piranshahr, Divandareh, Saqqez, Dehgolan and Kermanshah. In particular, in the village of Balu, near Urmia, the Bassij (Islamic militia) opened fire on a group of young demonstrators, seriously injuring 4 of them, one of whom later died in Urmia hospital (WKI). On the same day, it was reported that the police had fired on the crowd during clashes on the evening of the 21st in Mashhad (AFP). At the same time, the authorities, who had already deliberately slowed down internet connections, completely blocked them in several provinces, including Kurdistan, but also in Tabriz, as well as social networks: this hinders coordination between protesters and avoids the dissemination abroad of images embarrassing to the regime. This has led NGOs to fear an even more violent repression, as in November 2019, when the regime took advantage of the internet blackout to repress the protests caused by the increase in fuel prices almost behind closed doors, with a death toll of at least 300...
Indeed, on the 22nd, Amnesty International denounced a “brutal repression”, reporting against the demonstrators an “illegal use of bullets, steel balls, tear gas, water cannons and beatings with sticks”... That same day, in response to those whom the pasdaran described as “rioters” and “counter-revolutionaries”, obeying a “conspiracy of the enemy”, the authorities organised a counter-demonstration in Tehran in favour of wearing the hijab. The demonstrators marched with Iranian flags and chanted slogans such as: “Death to the plotters” or “Advocating the end of the veil is the policy of the Americans” (Le Monde).
On the 23rd, the NGO Iran Human Rights announced that the repression had left at least 50 people dead throughout the country (Le Monde), despite an official death toll limited to 17, including police officers. The Kurdish human rights organisation Hengaw reported that in the Kurdish town of Oshnavieh, the security forces had fired on demonstrators during the night of the 22nd to the 23rd with “semi-heavy weapons” (AFP). But the repressive escalation did not prevent the evening demonstrations, which had become a daily occurrence, from spreading to nearly 80 towns on Saturday 24. There were reports of beatings of members of the security forces, bomb attacks on “morality police” offices, and police vehicles set on fire. Officers sometimes shot or threw tear gas into flat windows (New York Times), but more importantly, live fire at protesters became a regular occurrence. According to Hengaw, the demonstrators took control of a large part of Oshnavieh – something the authorities denied, although they acknowledged that “rioters [there] had attacked three bassij bases” (AFP). The Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) reported, however, that most of the towns in Kurdistan were put under curfew...
On the 25th, after 10 days of demonstrations, the head of the judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, threatened the demonstrators again, insisting on “the need to act without any leniency” towards the instigators of the “riots” (AFP). On the night of 25th to 26th, rallies and clashes shook 30 of the country’s 31 provinces, as the movement entered its tenth consecutive day. There were demonstrations on 22 university campuses (Le Monde). On the 26th, according to Tasnim (a news website close to the pasdaran), 1,200 arrests of “rioters” were made, most of them in the north of the country, notably in Mazanderan and Gilan (Le Courrier Picard). In the different cities of Kurdistan, at least 898 demonstrators were injured (Hengaw) and 18 killed, and in the whole country, the death toll was “at least 76, [including] 6 women and 4 children” (Iran Human Rights).
“What is happening should not be reduced to demonstrations”, a sociologist living in Tehran who prefers to remain anonymous told the newspaper Le Monde on 27 September. “Iran is experiencing a continuous, broad and generalised phenomenon, where protesters do not hesitate to respond to the violence of the military forces with violence. We are now witnessing an uprising”, he said. The fear and fatalism that had dominated after the great repression of 2019 seemed to have disappeared. That same day, the Tasnim agency announced the arrest in Tehran of the daughter of former president Rafsanjani, Faezeh Hachemi, for “inciting rioters to demonstrate”.
On the 28th, while the family of Jîna Mahsa Amini filed a complaint against the police, the demonstrations continued. At the same time, the police renewed their threats, warning that they would oppose with “all their strength” the “conspiracies of counter-revolutionaries and hostile elements” (AFP). That day, the regime showed how worried it was about the generalisation of the protests and their rapid transformation into a direct challenge to its very existence. After several strikes on the 25th and 26th on Iraqi Kurdistan Region border area, it launched a large-scale attack on Kurdish opposition parties in this Region, where 20 drones loaded with explosives caused, at first count, 9 deaths and 32 injuries (AFP). The aim was clearly to draw the Kurdish parties, PDKI and Komala, into a military confrontation, with the message also directed at non-Kurdish demonstrators in the country to break their unity: “By demonstrating, you are playing into the hands of the Kurdish separatists, you are opening the door to the dismemberment of the country”... The former deputy secretary general of the PDKI, Asso Hassanzadeh, reacted by calling to avoid the militarisation of the protest movement and to maintain its unity (Le Monde).
From the evening of the 29th onwards, the increasing brutality of the repression and the suppression of social networks that had allowed protesters to coordinate did lead to a certain decrease in their numbers, but did not succeed in containing the movement. Participants in rallies started to adapt in order to avoid arrest, for example by demonstrating from their cars or chanting slogans from the roof or balcony of their building. In addition, new forms of movement emerged, as teachers, students and Uber drivers announced strikes (Al-Monitor). In response, the authorities intensified the pressure on symbolic targets, such as celebrities who had declared their support for the movement, filmmakers, athletes, musicians and actors, who were accused of “fanning the flames of the riots”, as well as journalists. For example, a journalist who had covered Jîna Mahsa Amini’s funeral and another who had helped publicise the case after going to the hospital where she was in a coma were both arrested. On the 30th, the Washington-based Committee to Protect Journalists announced at least 29 arrests of journalists. Former Persepolis FC footballer Hossein Maahini and former state TV host Mahmoud Shahriari were arrested for supporting the protests on social media. On the 30th, as the movement entered its third week, estimates of the number of victims of the repression reached at least 83 dead according to Iran Human Rights. Amnesty International denounced the “ruthless” violence of the repressive forces, ranging from live ammunition to beatings, lead bullets and sexual violence against women. The authorities announced they had arrested more than 1,200 people since the beginning of the movement. Among the latest arrested is singer Shervin Hajipour, whose song Baraye (“For”), made up of tweets about the protests, went viral on Instagram. In Zahedan, in a Baloch-populated region near the Afghan and Pakistani borders, police opened fire on protesters throwing stones at a police station, killing several people, though the number was not immediately known. But state television reported “exchanges of fire” that left 19 people dead and 20 wounded, including the local head of Pasdaran intelligence. Later in the day, the Ministry of Intelligence announced the arrest of “nine nationals from Germany, Poland, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, etc.”, arrested “at the scene of riots or having been involved in them” (AFP). The government has incessantly denounced a “foreign plot” since the beginning of the demonstrations.
At the end of September, the government, despite an increasingly ruthless repression, had not managed to stop a movement that was increasingly resembling a real popular insurrection against the Islamic Republic.
On 7 September, the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court refused the request of a Sadrist MP to dissolve the Baghdad parliament. This is obviously a setback for Moqtada al-Sadr, whose influence over a large part of the Shiite population however remains considerable.
The struggle between Sadr and his opponents in the pro-Iranian “Coordination Framework” has now shifted to what might be called a “theological” level, with the question of who should be the supreme religious authority (marja) in Iraq followed by the Shiites. The answer is obviously highly political, as Sadr’s former professor of Islamic studies, Grand Ayatollah Kadhim al-Haeri, has called for obedience to... Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei! Sadr immediately retorted that “the sacred city of Najaf is the centre of the marja”, a clear reference to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who till now did not express himself on the political situation (Rûdaw).
While Baghdad has regained a certain calm after Sadr’s “resignation”, in Basra, clashes between the Sadrist militias of Sayara al-Salam (“Peace Brigades”) and the pro-Iranian Asaib Ahl al-Haq have left 4 dead. In parallel, a member of parliament filed a complaint with the Supreme Court against the Speaker of Parliament Mohammed al-Halbousi for having accepted the collective resignation of Sadrist MPs in June by an “undemocratic” decree...
According to the Kurdish news channel Rûdaw, the two camps, each well aware of the other’s power and of their own limits, have entered an observation phase, which might allow to hope that the spectre of a descent into the violence of an intra-Shiite civil war has been averted for the moment. But neither the tensions nor the stalemate are over. Sadr refused to send a representative to the second session of the “national dialogue” organised by Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Qadhimi. It is therefore unlikely that there will be any negotiations to establish a coalition government.
The near future revolves around the following question: what will Moqtada al-Sadr’s former allies in parliament, the Sunnis of the Taqaddum (“Progress”) party of the parliament Speaker Mohammad al-Halbousi and the Kurds of the KDP, the two largest parties in their respective communities, do? The sudden resignation of their Sadrist allies had left them somewhat isolated. Sadr would have liked them to resign their deputies as well, but they were careful not to engage in this “institutional suicide”. Since then, the parties of the Coordination Framework have been urging them to reactivate the parliament and participate in the formation of a government without the Sadrist bloc.
If PDK and Taqaddum share with the Sadrists their wish to hold new elections, they consider it necessary that the polls follow “the formation of a government with full authority”, as they expressed it on the 11th in a joint communiqué welcomed by the Coordination Framework, which is more or less on the same position (AFP). The most likely possibility would therefore be the holding of new elections, before or after the formation of a transitional government in charge of preparing them. In opposition to the formation of such a government, the Sadrists continue to call for the immediate dissolution of parliament, which would lead to early legislative elections. For their part, their opponents in the “Coordination Framework” reiterated on the 12th their support for their candidate for Prime Minister, Mohamed Chia al-Soudani: it is precisely his name that had inflamed the Sadrists in late July (AFP).
One of the side effects of this long crisis is the confirmation of the political importance of the Kurds (and notably those of the KDP) at the national level. Thus the joint announcement of the 11th on “the importance of holding early elections” was made from Erbil, where the KDP leader, Massoud Barzani, had received Mohammed Al-Halbousi and the leader of the Alliance for Sovereignty, Khamis Al-Khanjar (KurdPress).
The period of the Shiite Arba’in ceremony and pilgrimage, during which parliament did not meet, provided some calm. Immediately after the conclusion of this event, on the 17th, the Coordination Framework resumed negotiations to form the government. On the 25th, a source in the Coordination Framework told Al-Monitor that an agreement had been reached with the Taqaddum - PDK alliance. By then, the focus was back on a consensus government, which would share positions among all political parties according to their seats: this is precisely the formula Sadr is most opposed to, as he sees it as the source of the corruption plaguing the country. This power-sharing would be carried out within the framework of a new alliance, called the Coalition for State Administration. Provincial elections would be held before the next national elections, and the electoral law would be amended. There was still no agreement on the names of a President and a Prime Minister.
Concerning the first post, traditionally given to a Kurd, the two Kurdish parties, KDP and PUK, are still not in agreement, each defending its own candidate: the Kurdistan Interior Minister, Ahmed Ribber, for the KDP, while the PUK wants a second term for the outgoing President Barham Salih.
The Coordination Framework hoped that eventually the Sadrists would agree to participate in the government formation process. As of the 26th, Sadr had not yet reacted to these latest developments. The first session of parliament since 23 July, just before it was occupied for a month by Sadrist demonstrators, was held on the 28th, despite a tense security situation: Iranian strikes on Iraqi Kurdistan, rocket fire on the “Green Zone” at the same time as the MPs were deliberating, which injured 7 members of the security forces. The Sadrist current condemned these shootings, which were not claimed. In addition, several hundred Sadr supporters, opposed to the resumption of a parliament whose dissolution they demand, tried to enter the secure area again to prevent the session from taking place. They had to be repelled with tear gas and stun grenades, in clashes where a hundred members of the police and 11 civilians were injured (AFP). The parliamentary session, however, helped to consolidate the position of Al-Halboussi, whose resignation was rejected. The deputies also appointed an independent Kurd as deputy speaker of the parliament to replace a resigned Sadrist lawmaker. However, the session failed to elect a new Speaker (WKI).
On the 30th, Baghdad was preparing for demonstrations scheduled for Saturday 1st October to commemorate the third anniversary of the 2019 popular anti-corruption uprising, potentially the largest demonstrations ever held in the country, as supporters of the “Tishrîn” movement as well as Sadrists are expected to attend (The National - UAE).
On the still delicate issue of relations between the Kurdistan Region and the federal government, the 28-point agreement adopted as the basis of the new alliance for the formation of a new government provides for the adoption of new laws on oil and gas (WKI). Moreover, the Americans became involved in the issue of hydrocarbon management, pushing for a compromise. On her return from Iraq, Deputy US Secretary of State Barbara Leaf said that Washington was taking “no legal or constitutional position” on the Iraqi Supreme Court decision invalidating the KRG’s oil contracts, but feared that “hasty” implementation of the decision would “[drive] US and other companies out of Iraq", with disastrous economic consequences far beyond Iraqi Kurdistan...” (US Department of State). Indeed, several American companies withdrew from Iraq this summer, and on 15 September, the French group Total Energies sold its shares in the Sarsang oil field in Kurdistan to the company ShaMaran.
On the 26th, the Second Deputy Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Shakhawan Abdullah, reported that Sunnis, Kurds and the Coordination Framework were working on the formation of a coalition that would draft a long-awaited oil and gas law agreed by the Iraqi and Kurdish governments, a demand particularly made by the KDP. On the 28th, the US called again on Iraq and the Kurdistan Region to work together to resolve the current oil and gas disputes (Rûdaw).
As the Iraqi parliament was meeting for the first time since June, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) launched a series of missile strikes in Iraqi Kurdistan against the Iranian Kurdish opposition in exile, with a first toll of 9 dead and 32 injured. The targets included the headquarters of the PDKI (Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran) near Koya, that of the Komala party in the village of Zewrgiz, 15 km from Suleimaniyeh, and twice, in the morning and afternoon, that of the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) in the village of Sherawa (Pirde, south of Erbil). The second strike on Sherawa, carried out by 4 suicide drones, left 6 dead and 5 injured, including a journalist who had come to cover the first bombing (WKI). “The area we are in has been hit by ten drone strikes,” a Komala official told AFP, while another said there were 16 drones. In Tehran, state television said the strikes had targeted “several headquarters of separatist terrorists” (AFP).
Baghdad announced the “urgent” summoning of the Iranian ambassador to protest against the attacks, which also caused civilian casualties. The PDKI reported two deaths in its ranks, indicating that the strikes had also targeted the settlements of women and children. The KRG in a statement “strongly condemned [...] these continuous attacks that lead to the death of civilians” and called “for an end to these violations” (AFP). On the evening of the 29th, according to the anti-terrorist services of Iraqi Kurdistan, the death toll had risen to at least 13, including a pregnant woman, and 58 wounded, the majority of whom were civilians, including women and children under the age of 10. On the same day, it was learned that an American national was among the dead.
The condemnations of these attacks followed one another: after Baghdad, Washington, which spoke of “shameless” strikes and warned Tehran against new attacks, Berlin, which described them as “unacceptable", then on the 29th, London, before Paris, then on the 30th, the European Union. The State Department said that the United States “[would] continue to apply sanctions and take other measures to stop Iran’s destabilising activities in the region”, without further details (AFP).
Ignoring these condemnations, the Revolutionary Guards indicated on the 30th that they would continue their attacks against the Kurdish opposition in Iraq until these “terrorist groups are disarmed”, specifically asking the KRG to expel them from its territory (WKI).
Unfortunately, Northern Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region, is not only a victim of Iranian strikes. This month it has also suffered numerous Turkish strikes and attacks by ISIS. Emotions and anger were high throughout the country after the indiscriminate Turkish strike that killed 9 Arab tourists in Zakho on 20 July. On 1st September, the Iraqi Defence Minister, Juma Inad, announced the formation of a border brigade based in Erbil and charged with protecting the Kurdistan region and the border with Turkey. According to the NGO Peacemaker Teams, military offensives launched by Turkey in the region have killed at least 123 civilians since 2015 (RojInfo). According to the Iraqi Ministry of Defence, the Turkish army has penetrated up to 105 km deep into the mountainous regions of Iraqi Kurdistan, and has installed more than 40 bases and more than 4,000 soldiers in Iraq (Rûdaw). Despite Baghdad’s firm statements, it seems unlikely that Iraq will exercise concrete sanctions against Ankara. This is evidenced by the visit to Baghdad of the head of the MIT (Turkish Intelligence), the first high-level Turkish visit since the Zakho massacre. Arriving in the Iraqi capital on the 10th, Hakan Fidan met the three most important figures of the state: President Barham Saleh, Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi and the Speaker of the Parliament Mohammad Al-Halbousi. The content of the talks was not revealed, but according to Rûdaw, Fidan told his interlocutors of Ankara’s willingness to continue its operations against the PKK on Iraqi territory... Fidan also met again with the head of the “Sovereignty Alliance” (Sunni) Khamis al-Khanjar, whom he had already met in Ankara in February, provoking the anger of the pro-Iranian parties, attentive to the Turkish influence on the Iraqi Sunni parties... (WKI).
The very day after this visit, a YBŞ vehicle was targeted twice in the morning by a Turkish drone near Xanesor, in the Yezidi region of Shengal (Sindjar), not far from an Iraqi army base. The YBŞ reported no casualties (RojInfo), but the Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) reported that a Turkish drone strike on al-Shemal district killed 3 YBŞ that same day, although it is unclear whether it was the same attack. In addition, Ankara announced the death of 4 of its soldiers in fighting with the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan. On the 23rd, another drone strike in Sindjar, this time targeting the YBŞ headquarters in Karaziz, left 2 people injured, including 1 civilian. According to the local police, only a few guards were present in the building, which had recently been evacuated (WKI).
The Turkish state agency Anatolia also reported on the 16th that the MIT had abducted two residents of the Makhmour refugee camp, accused of belonging to the PKK. Finally, on the 25th, the Turkish air force bombed several areas near Amêdî (Dohouk), and the next day 6 different places in the district of Mawat (Suleimaniyeh), terrifying the residents of several villages.
Moreover, even if their activities are no longer in the headlines, ISIS jihadists are still present in some areas of the disputed territories between Baghdad and Erbil. On the evening of 2 September, a suspected jihadist opened fire in Qaradagh (Suleimaniyeh) on local police and Asayish (security), injuring 10 people. The Asayish said they shot the attacker who refused to surrender. On the 15th, in the midst of the Shiite Arba’în ceremony, jihadists fired mortars at the mausoleum of Imam Zain al-Abdin in Daqouq.
On the 14th , the peshmerga conducted a large security operation between Kirkuk and Chamchamal to find the remains of a Kurd kidnapped earlier this month by ISIS, without success. Recently, the jihadists have extended their activities to the areas between Kirkuk and Suleimaniyeh. Also in Kirkuk province, on the 17th, jihadists wounded 3 policemen on patrol in Rashad.
In addition, 4 unknown drones flew over Peshmerga positions in the Qara Hanjeer district of Kirkuk. The latter fired on them after making sure that they were neither Iraqi nor American. According to activists, they belong to the Turkish MIT, which has been very active in Kirkuk since October 2017.
Following the increase in attacks by ISIS, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, General Abdul Amir Yarlla, went to Kirkuk for security talks. While an agreement was reached more than a year ago between Baghdad and Erbil for the deployment of a joint Iraqi-Kurdish force in the disputed areas, the Iraqi Ministry of Defence has still not implemented it despite the continuous deterioration of the security situation. On the 19th, the Iraqi Defence Minister in turn visited Kirkuk to discuss security...
Jihadists have also been active in the Khanaqin region on the Iranian border. The Hamrin Mountains continue to serve as their sanctuary. On the 16th, a jihadist leader responsible for the kidnapping and subsequent murder of an Iraqi officer was killed by an air strike. In addition, the arrival in the district of 15,000 pilgrims from Iran to participate in Arba’în in Kerbela forced the postponement of a planned joint Iraqi-Kurdish military operation near Khanaqin after the recent increase in attacks by ISIS. On the 26th, after another Iraqi air strike near Hamrin Lake, clashes broke out between jihadists and an army unit that had come to inspect the area. Five ISIS members and one soldier were killed.
Finally, in the disputed territories that came back under Baghdad’s control in October 2017, the Kurds are still facing the resumption of the Arabisation policy carried out by Saddam Hussein in his time. In Kirkuk, the recent recruitment process for a thousand civil servants showed such blatant discrimination against Kurds and in particular Kakais, that following the numerous complaints received, the Ministry of Finance ordered its suspension on the 16th. On the 29th , medical graduates from Kirkuk demonstrated in front of the office of the Baghdad-appointed interim governor, who had ordered the suspension of the employment of all those without identity cards issued in the province...
So far, the Turkish president’s efforts to secure the possibility of launching a new invasion of northern Syria have not been successful. Sponsored by his great Russian friend, Mr Erdoğan has nevertheless gone as far as he can in his rapprochement with the Syrian regime, even provoking anti-Turkish opposition demonstrations in Syrian territories controlled by Ankara. At the end of August, he reiterated his willingness to complete the already existing “Security Zones”: “We will not stop our struggle until we have secured our southern borders from end to end with a 30-kilometre deep corridor”. As Al-Monitor notes, this statement sounds more like an expression of frustration than a realistic plan. Indeed, Damascus has made any progress on the issue of armed Kurdish groups conditional on a total Turkish withdrawal from Syria and an end to Ankara’s support for “armed rebel groups”. Turkey is still aiming at the revision of the Adana Agreement, signed in October 1998 under pressure from Ankara shortly after the expulsion by Syria of Abdullah Öcalan. While Ankara believes that this agreement gives it the right to pursue the PKK to a depth of 5 kilometres into Syrian territory, the Syrians have never accepted this interpretation, which is actually not in the published text. It is therefore highly unlikely that Damascus will accede to demands to a depth of 30 km! The Syrians interpret the recent Turkish diplomatic contortions mainly as signals for the President’s internal use in view of the upcoming elections.
Thanks to Russia’s good offices, the two intelligence chiefs, Hakan Fidan for Turkey and Ali Mamlouk for Syria, did meet at the beginning of the month, but the Intelligence Online website, which reported the information on the 7th, notes that “The results were not convincing, but the meeting at least allowed Ankara and Damascus to set out their demands”...
If the regime keeps Ankara at bay, however, it will certainly continue to play the Turkish threat to try to force the Autonomous Administration of North-East Syria (AANES), dominated by the PYD Kurds, to accept increased control. Again, success is not guaranteed for Bashar Al-Assad. At least in the medium term, a direct attack by the Syrian army on the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) appears unlikely. One reason is that, despite Moscow’s support, the regime remains fragile, while militarily Russia now has many other concerns than Syria. Moreover, no amount of military support can prevent the worsening economic situation, the real problem for Damascus. Finally, even on a more limited footing, the US military presence continues in the territories administered by the AANES through the anti-ISIS coalition. To all this must be added, as the head of the FDS, Mazloum Abdi, declared on the 9th, the fact that “Turkish forces are busy with the operation launched in Iraqi Kurdistan” (Le Monde).
Although the situation in the Middle East, with the protests in Iran and the continuing instability in Iraq, has somewhat overshadowed the fight against ISIS, the Islamic organisation is still very much present, particularly in Syria, and the American-led coalition, of which the SDF is the essential ground element, is therefore still relevant and active. The coalition has been reinforced this month, with the arrival of military convoys escorted by armoured vehicles and helicopters from Iraqi Kurdistan on the 9th and 15th. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported the presence on each occasion of nearly 50 vehicles packed with logistical supplies, various equipment and fuel tanks, which reached the coalition’s military bases near Hasakeh.
Certainly to Ankara’s displeasure, the coalition conducted joint military exercises with the SDF in early September in the Derik region, in the middle of the Syria-Turkey-Iraq border triangle. They included firing heavy and medium weapons with live ammunition and exercises in reconnaissance and tracking the movement of terrorist cells, to “strike them and prevent them from posing a threat to the population” (SOHR). While similar manoeuvres had already taken place in the Deir Ezzor region, they are absolutely unprecedented in this strategically very sensitive border region for Ankara.
Unable to launch a new large-scale operation in northern Syria, Turkey had to content itself with continuing its harassment of AANES territories from East to West all along the front line.
In the province of Hasakeh, the Christian region of Tall Tamr, not far from the strategic M4 motorway, was as always particularly targeted. On the 1st of the month, the SOHR reported new bombings on the town’s power station, which the Turkish-Jihadists put out of service for the Nth time, also causing new displacements of frightened civilians. These bombings continued in the following days, also affecting the area of Serê Kaniyê (Ras al-Aïn). On the 6th, the Assyrian village of Tel Tawel was particularly targeted, but was not the only one. After a precarious calm of 2-3 days, the Turkish army resumed firing on the 9th, while SDF Special Forces carried out an infiltration operation against the “National Army” in this area, resulting in the death of 23 of its fighters. In retaliation, the Turkish army and its auxiliaries struck the Assyrian village of Al-Tawela to the west of Tal Tamr with heavy artillery, without causing any casualties. Artillery fire continued on villages in this area until at least the 17th of the month.
The newspaper Le Monde reported on the 25th that near Tall Tamr, Turkish and SDF lines face each other a few hundred metres apart, separated by Syrian regime and Russian soldiers. A Syriac fighter from the Christian “Khabur Guardians” force, affiliated to the SDF, criticised the inaction of both the West and the Russians in the face of the Turkish attacks: “Why do the Americans let the Turks do it? We did not defeat the IS [ISIS] to let the Turks occupy our territory. As for the Russians, although they are present on the ground, according to him they are not playing their role as guarantors of the ceasefire at all. As for the regime’s soldiers deployed between the lines, they constitute for him a very poor protection: “They raise the flag and that’s all. They have no heavy weapons, they can’t do anything. They are just civilians forced to be in the army”... Sometimes they flee in the face of an attack, forcing the SDF to go to the front. While the 2019 ceasefire agreement provided for the exclusion of the Assyrian villages installed in chain along the Khabur River, only 4 of the 33 villages are still inhabited. The others have been evacuated due to the continuous Turkish bombardment.
On the 27th, a drone strike in Al-Rumaiyan, near Qamishli, close to one of the oldest and most important bases of the anti-ISIS coalition, where US military personnel are stationed, hit a military vehicle containing 2 AANES officials, both of whom were killed. As of this date, the SOHR counted 59 Turkish drone strikes on AANES territory since the beginning of the year, killing 11 civilians, including 7 children, and 56 fighters, plus 93 wounded (https://www.syriahr.com/en/269240/).
Further west, in the province of Aleppo, after a period of calm following the 23 August meeting in Kobanê between a Coalition delegation and SDF commanders, exchanges of fire resumed on 2 September between the “Al-Bab Military Council” (which aims to regain control of this Turkish-occupied town) and the Turkish military and its Syrian auxiliaries, and lasted several days. On the 18th, reportedly in response to Syrian army artillery fire, the Turkish air force bombed several SDF and regime positions east of Kobanê, killing at least 3 Syrian soldiers. Exchanges of fire between the same protagonists also took place a few days later, on the 22nd, near Marea, north of Aleppo. In Manbij, clashes took place on the 30th between the city’s military council and the Turks, and a regime soldier was wounded near the city. Further west, on the edge of the Turkish-controlled sector of Afrin, artillery exchanges also took place mid-month in Shirawa. On the 26th, a Turkish drone struck an administrative building in Kobane without causing any casualties. According to the Rojava Information Center, this was the 80th drone strike on the AANES in 2022...
The Turkish-Kurdish frontline also flared up in Raqqa, with intensive Turkish shelling earlier this month on villages and IDP camps near the M4 highway. On the 9th, a civilian whose car had broken down on the M4 near Ain-Issa was shot dead by Turkish snipers. After 5 days of tense calm, the SOHR also noted an unusual incident on the 16th when Turkish forces opened fire on a Russian patrol on the M4 highway, forcing it to withdraw hastily. On the same day, a Turkish drone strike killed four, possibly five, members of the AANES military police, prompting retaliatory artillery fire from the SDF into Turkish-controlled areas near Ain-Issa.
It was in Raqqa that the trial of 15 defendants who pleaded guilty to the charge of collaboration with the Turkish secret services (MIT) was held on 11 November, to whom they had transmitted the coordinates of commanders or officials of the AANES and the FDS in exchange for payment, thus enabling their assassination (according to the SOHR, one of the defendants indicated that he had never received the promised 50,000 dollars after the attack). The hearing was held behind closed doors, but was open to the families of the victims of the Turkish attacks concerned, who came in large numbers. 13 of the defendants were sentenced to death, with the sentence of the last 2 suspended for lack of evidence, although they admitted collaboration with the MIT. The SOHR could not confirm whether the sentences had been carried out.
In the territories under Turkish occupation, Ankara’s Islamist proxy militias continue their abuses, especially in the territory of Afrin, where new settlements to house non-Kurds are being built... (WKI) Moreover, while the death penalty is now banned in Turkey, the occupier does not hesitate to apply it in the Syrian territories it controls. Thus, the “Military Court” of Azaz pronounced this sentence against a 22-year-old Kurd from Afrin, for having had contacts with the AANES before the Turkish occupation. The young Hisên Yusif had been abducted by the MIT in Afrin with several other family members in the summer of 2021 and held incommunicado for several months. Hisên’s uncle called on the international community to react against these abuses and to hold the Turkish authorities accountable (RojInfo).
ISIS cells continue their attacks against the SDF, while the danger posed by the Al-Hol and Roj camps remains unchecked. Since the beginning of 2022, the SOHR has documented 136 jihadist operations, armed attacks or bombings on the territory of the AANES, resulting in 109 deaths, including 37 civilians, one of whom was a woman and one a child, figures that do not include the attack on Ghuwayran prison (Hasakeh). Moreover, since the launch of a major security operation in the Al-Hol camp on 25 August, ISIS has intensified its attacks in retaliation. The first one was launched on 27 August, and by 19 September, the SOHR had already counted 16 attacks that killed 17 people, including 3 civilians (https://www.syriahr.com/en/268164/). In particular, on 10 September, a SDF headquarters near Hamar Al-Ali (Deir Ezzor) was attacked by unidentified, but certainly jihadist, assailants. The SDF, put on alert, then launched a campaign of arrests in the area (SOHR). On the 11th, jihadists managed to kill 7 SDF fighters in 2 separate attacks, 6 kidnapped and then executed after an ambush on the Deir Ezzor-Hassake road, one 7th by bullets near Al-Jazarah, in the west of Deir Ezzor province (AFP). On the 18th, a SDF checkpoint was attacked with RPGs in Al-Wahid, Deir Ezzor.
On the 21st, the Asayish (Kurdish Security) announced that they had attacked and dismantled near the village of Umm Fakik (20 km north of al-Hol) a cell preparing an attack on the al-Hol camp using 2 car bombs, a technique reminiscent of the one used against Ghuwayran prison. Three of the jihadists were killed and one arrested. The jihadists blew up one of the cars but the second one was seized with 300 kg of explosives, 3 Kalashnikovs, 8 magazines and 240 bullets.
On the 23rd, SDF counter-terrorism units launched an operation supported by Coalition helicopters on the village of Al-Zarr, north of Raqqa, which led to the arrest of 3 jihadists and the discovery of caches of explosives. On the 28th, it was in the village of Al-Qaraiwan, near Tell Hamis, that AANES Security seized “the largest cache of weapons” since the fall of the last “Caliphate” stronghold in Baghouz, an absolutely impressive quantity, thanks to intelligence obtained from some of the jihadists arrested in the Al-Hol camp. Again, the terrorists’ plan was to attack the camp to free its inmates. The SDF Press Center statement (in Arabic) also accuses Ankara of coordinating with ISIS against AANES, denouncing the “coincidence” between “the movements of the terrorist cells” and the “threats and attacks of the Turkish occupation", adding: “All the investigations carried out by our forces have confirmed the clear and studied coordination between the two sides in the assault on our areas” (https://sdf-press.com/?p=38516).
The Al-Hol camp remains the focal point of the jihadist danger in Rojava. According to the UN, there are still 56,000 people there, more than 90% of whom are women and children (50% of the residents are under 18), and 10,000 foreigners: 27,000 Iraqis, i.e. half the population, and 18,000 Syrians, plus 8,500 foreigners of other nationalities. While the residents include relatives of dead jihadist fighters and displaced persons who only want to reintegrate, there are also people who continue to support the ideology of ISIS, some of whom still define themselves as “soldiers of the caliphate” willing to die and murder for the cause. At the end of June, the UN said that in 18 months, more than 100 people, including many women, had been killed in the camp (AFP).
The SDF continued in September the security operation launched in the camp on 24 August. On the 5th, the Coalition said in a statement that “SDF freed four women from the camp who were found in tunnels, chained and tortured by Islamic State supporters” (AFP). According to the Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI), the SDF also freed 2 Yezidi women who had been abducted during the 2014 genocide. On the 6th, the SDF announced that they had arrested 121 suspects, including 15 women, and had discovered 16 tunnels. According to their statement, the main ISIS networks in Al-Hol were dismantled. However, on the night of the 8th, clashes broke out in the camp, in which 2 SDF fighters were killed. On the jihadists side, 1 fighter was killed and 5 injured. Some ISIS fighters had disguised themselves as women to make it easier to attack the SDF (AFP). US General Michael Kurilla visited the camp the following day, before again calling on countries with nationals in the camp to repatriate them: “Most residents seek to escape ISIS, but ISIS views the camp as a captive audience for its message and recruitment efforts. There is therefore an urgent need to repatriate the residents to their home countries and rehabilitate them if necessary,” he said, describing the camp as a “hotbed of human suffering” with “horrific” living conditions.
On the 17th, the SDF announced the end of its security operation in the camp, which had resulted in the arrest of 226 jihadists, including 36 women. They also renewed their accusations against Turkey regarding a “structural link” between the MIT and the ISIS sleeper cells, pointing in particular the finger at the Turkish-based NGO Bahar for complicity in “channelling weapons and money” to jihadists in the camp. On this occasion, the commander of the Combined Special Operations Joint Task Force - Levant, Brigadier General Claude Tudor, held a joint press conference with SDF commander Newroz Ahmad, during which he reaffirmed US support for the SDF and local security forces (Asayish). However, these blows to ISIS did not prevent its supporters from succeeding in raising the flag of the “Caliphate” in the camp on the 25th.
September started in Turkey with announcements on the 1st of the month of important price increases for gas and electricity: around 20% for households and 50% for companies. This is not going to make the government any more popular, with inflation already exceeding 80% annually, and food prices reaching 90%... As for bread, the staple food of the poorest, it has jumped by more than 101% in one year, while the increase in producer prices has reached the “staggering rate of nearly 144%” (Al-Monitor). But these are official figures: independent researchers put annual inflation at 176% (Courrier International).
With the currency in free fall, wages are far from keeping up. Poverty is therefore worsening rapidly in the country, including for the middle classes. The increase in purchases that has enabled the country to maintain positive growth (7.5% during the first six months of the year) is partly explained by this fall in the currency, which on the one hand supports low-cost exports and on the other hand pushes desperate citizens to shelter their savings by exchanging their Turkish lira for safe-haven goods, whether real estate or furniture (cars...). Al-Monitor calls this “apprehension-driven consumption": once household reserves are exhausted (at least for those who have them), this false growth will have come to an end... Moreover, the president’s repeated appeals to Turkish citizens to “get out” the foreign currency and gold they are hiding “under their pillows” have ended up generating dozens of humorous videos on TikTok: the authors filmed themselves at home holding what we guess are euros or dollars... and hide them with the speed of desperation when an image of Erdoğan appears behind them!! These videos made many people laugh... but not the Turkish president: the Istanbul prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation against the amateur videographers for “insulting the head of state” which could land them in jail for 1 to 4 years (RFI).
To further aggravate the crisis of popularity of the government, the mafia chief Sedat Peker made his comeback on social networks at the end of August with new revelations on the corruption of those close to Erdoğan. A former supporter and close associate of the Turkish president, exiled to the Emirates since the beginning of 2020, he had been somewhat forgotten for several months, after a series of devastating videos. He reappeared with great fanfare, forcing one of Erdoğan’s economic advisers, Korkmaz Karaca, to resign from his post and all his functions within the AKP, officially “for health reasons”. In about 50 tweets supported by what he presented as WhatsApp screenshots, Peker accused Karaca on 27 August of embezzling 12 million Turkish lira (US$660,000). According to Peker, the main coordinator of the bribery scheme was Serhat Albayrak, head of the pro-government Turkuvaz media group and brother of Erdogan’s son-in-law, former finance minister Berat Albayarak. Given the difficulties many Turks are struggling with, it is unlikely that they will receive this kind of news with any leniency...
Because of the “seriousness of the allegations” made by Peker, the HDP called for a parliamentary enquiry, accusing the prosecutors, who are so quick to react when the Head of State is targeted, but in this case were deafeningly silent, of the “crime of dereliction of duty as regulated by the Turkish Penal Code”. These latest allegations by the mafia boss have not led to the opening of any investigation, any more than the previous ones...
Is it any wonder then that Turkish society is in distress? “Little bread and a lot of anger” is how a Turkish journalist describes the situation in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: “The political polarisation fuelled and desired by Erdogan has pitted us against each other and the stress created by the economic crisis has completed the undermining of our mental health,” he explains. “According to official figures from the Ministry of Health, psychotropic drugs are now the second most sold category of medication in the country": their sale has jumped by 70% in 10 years (Courrier International).
The government continues to polarise, hoping to capitalise on the most conservative voices. Witness this anti-LGBT march organised on the 18th in Istanbul, supported by the Audiovisual Council, which agreed to broadcast its publicity because it is “of public interest", and which unlike many others, took place without any police intervention... (France-24). In fact, Mr Erdoğan’s response to his foreseeable electoral difficulties has 4 elements: increase the polarisation of society, find convenient scapegoats for a situation for which his erratic economic management is solely responsible (the Kurds and Syrian migrants inside, the country’s Western enemies abroad), distribute subsidies to his constituents, and finally, use the fear of repression to silence criticism.
The Turkish president has therefore started real vote-buying operations for the June 2023 elections: on the 13th, he announced that the state housing agency TOKI would launch the construction of half a million new homes for low-income families over five years, including 250,000 homes during the initial two-year phase. With payments spread over 20 years, the project attracted 3.5 million applications in less than a week. However, TOKI said that payments would be indexed to public sector salaries and reviewed twice a year... Other measures, such as tax assistance to companies to cover their employees’ energy bills, were announced. Time will tell if the electorate is swayed, but the budget certainly will be: the deficit, already forecast at more than 50 billion dollars by the end of 2022, is expected to exceed the 6.4% initially forecast by the government. Fortunately for the government, the influx of cash from the Gulf and... Russia has slowed the rise in foreign currency prices to some extent... And Al-Monitor, which offers this assessment, concludes that Erdoğan’s economic “gestures” to voters will cause “a large deficit in public finances and the imposition of heavy bills on state banks, other public economic entities and the next government”... On the other hand, on the 23rd, the Turkish Central Bank lowered its interest rates again, following the President’s economic line that “rates create inflation”. A few days before, the US Central Bank had raised its rates... (Al-Monitor).
While the polls predict a difficult election for the presidential party and its far-right allies, they hardly show the conventional opposition, more or less dominated by the Kemalist CHP, in a much better position. In early September, the latest Metropoll figures showed the AKP at just 30%, but the CHP was only 20%: “After two decades in power [of the AKP], and in the midst of the worst economic crisis in more than two decades, 20% for the main opposition group is a bit pathetic, isn’t it?” asked Al-Monitor ironically. While the same figures show that together, the 3 main parties of the “Nation Alliance” can defeat Erdoğan (provided they put the right candidate against him), they also show the importance of Kurdish votes – confirming what the scores of the last polls showed.
As the political context brings the Kurdish issue back to the forefront, the opposition has started to fracture over possible links with the HDP. On the 4th, CHP deputy and vice-president Gürsel Tekin said in a TV interview that in a government formed by the current opposition, some ministerial posts could “of course” go to HDP members, “according to the constitution”. This statement immediately inflamed the IYI (far-right, a splinter of the MHP opposed to the alliance with the AKP). The leader of this party, Meral Aksener, declared on the 6th: “We will not sit at the same table as the HDP”.
The CHP itself is far from clear about this, since under the impulse of its leader Kamal Kiliçdaroğlu, it has kept the HDP at a distance since the creation of the “Alliance of the Nation", while explaining to HDP leaders that they must unite against Erdoğan: so HDP voters would have to abandon their party to give a blank cheque to the CHP, while the Kemalist party approved the various immunity waivers of HDP deputies, and then all Turkish military operations against the Kurds in Syria... Last event that is not likely to encourage Kurds to give him their votes, Kilicdaroğlu, during his visit to Samsung’s Teknofest, a military equipment exhibition where Bayraktar drones were displayed, not only publicly praised these machines that kill Kurdish civilians in Syria and Iraq on a daily basis, but promised to continue public support to the company when the opposition comes to power!
Regarding the possibility of HDP ministries, the imprisoned former co-chairman of the party, Selahattin Demirtaş, in an interview given remotely on the 13th from his cell, reacted positively to Tekin’s statement, before clarifying that the HDP was not looking for official positions, but to “change the system": “We don’t want the thief to change, we want the robbery to stop”, he declared. As for Aksener’s statement, the HDP, which remained silent for a while, then retorted through its spokesperson that, let alone sitting at the same table, “we would not even drink a glass of tea with you”...
Competing on her right with the new Zafer (“Victory”) party, which campaigns with an openly racist programme aimed at expelling all migrants, Aksener is constantly hardening her discourse. She has recently attracted attention by comparing Syrian refugees to “waste” and planning, if she comes to power, to “isolate” them in “concentration camps” before forcibly sending them back to Syria. Some observers wonder whether the AKP is not encouraging Zafer underhandedly to weaken IYI, and thus the opposition...
By instrumentalising the refugee issue to challenge Erdoğan, who welcomed them in 2011, and by making their expulsion the decisive argument of their campaign, the “Nation Alliance” parties have encouraged a process of racist radicalisation of the most worrying kind. As attacks, sometimes deadly, against Syrian refugees multiply, this one-upmanship could also push the Kurds to boycott the election, a “neutralisation” that would ultimately benefit Erdoğan...
To the HDP’s credit, it refused the racist temptation, and on the 23rd, the party announced the formation of a new progressive alliance of 6 parties, entitled “Alliance for Labour and Freedom", for the following day. It includes the following members: Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Workers’ Party (TİP), Labour Party (EMEP), Social Freedom Party (TÖP), Workers’ Movement Party (EHP), Federation of Socialist Assemblies (SMF). Even before its official announcement, Tuncer Bakırhan, HDP vice-chairman, told Gazete Duvar of its orientation: in the face of the existing alliances, “none of which brings hope to society", to propose a democratic alternative, with “solutions to Turkey’s main problems": “social problems such as restrictions in the field of rights and freedoms, the Kurdish issue, equal citizenship rights for Alevis, unemployment, the economic crisis, poverty, victims of presidential decrees, youth rights, women’s rights, environmental rights and democracy”. Bakırhan added: “Although the alliance is formed during the electoral process, it is not an ‘electoral alliance’.” [...] “This alliance is actually an alliance of struggle”.
According to opinion pollsters, the new alliance, whose vote potential Bakırhan estimated could reach 20%, is in a “key position", especially for the presidential elections (Duvar).
The “repression” aspect of the government’s activity is unfortunately still as busy as ever. On the 2nd, the AFP announced the arrest on the previous Friday of HDP MP Semra Güzel who was travelling “with a false passport” in the north-west of the country. Her immunity had been lifted by parliament in March after pro-government media conveniently published a photograph from the peace process period showing her with her fiancé, a PKK fighter. Güzel had obtained permission from the Turkish government at the time to visit him (WKI). On the 9th, an Antalya court banned the distribution and sale of the book of poems Yıkılacak Duvarlar (“The Walls Will Come Down”) by Figen Yüksekdag, the former HDP co-chairwoman who has been imprisoned for nearly eight years, on the grounds of “propaganda for a terrorist organisation”. Written in detention, the book was published in 2020 by Ceylan (Istanbul). The book should soon be confiscated from the publisher and from all bookshops in the near future and destroyed. In it, Yüksekdag indirectly mentions the crimes committed by the Turkish army in 2015-2016 in the Kurdish cities of Turkey, especially in Cizre where, according to reports by several human rights organisations, at least 177 people were burned or shot by the security forces in the basements of the buildings where they had taken refuge. At least 288 people died during the siege of the city.
On the 13th, the Diyarbakir Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation for “terrorist propaganda” against CHP Councillor Nevaf Bilke. On the occasion of the CHP provincial congress held in the city on the 10th, Bilke had given an interview in Kurdish to the Rûdaw channel during which he had said: “Diyarbakır is really an important and historical city in Turkish Kurdistan” (Duvar). On the 16th, Mersin police arrested a Democratic Regions Party (DBP) official, Metin Inci, and two women on charges of “belonging” to the Syrian YPJ (Women’s Defence Units).
On 26 September, 3 football fans were arrested in Diyarbakir for displaying the flag of Iraqi Kurdistan during a match. The Diyarbakır Bar Association called for their release, recalling that this is the official flag of the Kurdistan Regional Government as recognised by the Iraqi Constitution, and denounced the hate messages that had flooded social networks on this occasion.
The situation in Turkish prisons continues to demonstrate the same disregard for human rights and even cruelty that characterises the prison administration. The typical example is former HDP deputy Aysel Tugluk, who is kept in a cell even though she was diagnosed with dementia in March 2021, and doctors say she can no longer carry out daily activities by herself. Her relatives and lawyers had been asking for months for her to be transferred to hospital. Her health had to deteriorate further after she contracted the coronavirus before she was finally rushed to hospital on the 9th of this month. Former HDP co-chair Figen Yuksekdag, also detained in Kandira Prison (Kocaeli), said during her hearing on the same day that “The unfavourable situation created by the conditions of detention keeps worsening her health condition” (Rûdaw). On the 12th, four female journalists held in Diyarbakir Women’s Prison announced through their lawyers that they were going on hunger strike for 5 days to draw attention to the human rights violations suffered by the detainees, among others the permanent internal surveillance by cameras, the practice of body searches, the lack of care for sick prisoners and the prohibition of any social events in prison. Safiye Alağaş, Neşe Toprak, Remziye Temel and Elif Üngür are among the group of 16 journalists arrested last June and jailed for “terrorist propaganda” (Bianet).
On the 14th, some 350 lawyers from 22 countries held a press conference at the European Press Club in Brussels. The purpose was to follow up on their request to the Turkish Ministry of Justice to meet the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. He last met his lawyers in August 2019, after 8 years in solitary confinement... Since then, his lawyers have submitted more than 100 requests for visits, all of which were rejected. As for his family, Öcalan has had no contact with them since a telephone conversation with his brother Mehmet in March 2021. During the conference, Selma Benkhelifa, from the Progress Lawyers Network, recalled that “the rule of law means that states respect the decisions of the judiciary”. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in 2014 that the isolation imposed on Imralı Island (where Öcalan is being held) was tantamount to torture: “We won this case, and Turkey was condemned”. However, this court decision has not had any concrete effect (Duvar)...
On the 18th, a new inmate suffered a suspicious death in solitary confinement. The authorities announced the “suicide” of Barış Keve, who was serving a 6-year and 3-month sentence in Malatya prison for “belonging to an armed organisation”. His brother, who had spoken to him 2 days earlier, denied any suicide attempt by the deceased (WKI). Keve’s funeral on the 20th, held in Çatak (Van), was attended by hundreds of people including local HDP and DBP leaders. Despite threats of dispersal by the police, participants chanted slogans such as “Long live the prison resistance” (ANF).
On 21 September, in a real denial of justice, the Ankara Criminal Court rejected a request to include the assassination of the famous Kurdish writer Musa Anter in the scope of “crimes against humanity”, which in fact amounts to closing the case. Anter was murdered in 1992 in Diyarbakir, 30 years ago. The case, which has been integrated into the wider case of extrajudicial killings by the JITEM gendarmerie group, came up for hearing on the 15th of this month, although the statute of limitations was the 20th. Instead of rendering its judgment as expected, the court adjourned the case to 21 September, after the statute of limitations had expired. While the defence lawyer had asked for the case to be dropped, the lawyer for the victim’s son, who was present at the hearing, relied on the conclusions of the 1995 parliamentary commission of enquiry to ask that the case be considered as a crime against humanity. The Commission had concluded that the aim of the assassination had been to terrorise a section of society. The court rejected this classification, which would have rendered the case imprescriptible.
Finally, on the 13th, another racist attack targeted a Kurdish family who had come to visit a house they had bought in a village in the ethnically Turkish province of Aydın. After blocking the road to prevent the family from leaving the village, the villagers attacked and violently beat the family members, including the women and children. Called by the father, the gendarmerie refused to intervene, asking him to go to the hospital to get a medical report and then to file a complaint, before hanging up. Some of the family members appear to have been very seriously injured.
On the 23rd, the HDP reported that in his Edirne cell, its former co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş had shaved his head as a sign of support for the protests sparked in Iran by the murder by Iranian vice police of Kurdish girl Jîna Mahsa Amini. His cellmate Selçuk Mızraklı, former co-mayor of Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality, did the same.