MPs taken to hospital after police break up demonstration in Istanbul

Istanbul MP Sebahat Tuncel after being pepper-sprayed by police. Photo from Nûkurd.

Thousands of Kurds were out in the Şişli area of Istanbul earlier today protesting the Turkish Supreme Election Board’s decision to strip independent candidate Hatip Dicle of his win in the 12 June elections. Police violently dispersed the crowds using tear gas and pepper spray.

The group, including the Deputies Sebahat Tuncel, Ertuğrul Kürkçü, Sırrı Süreyya Önder and Levent Tüzel, gathered around Şişli Mosque and planned to march in Taksim Square but were blocked by anti-riot forces.

Istanbul MPs Sebahat Tuncel and Sırrı Süreyya Önder were taken to hospital suffering from respiratory difficulties. Some protestors took shelter in local stores.

Ten people were wounded and 23 were taken into custody.

Afterwards, police followed some demonstrators into the majority Kurdish Tarlabasi neighbourhood. Squads were posted at the top of streets leading into neighbourhood, along Tarlabasi Boulevard.

Below are some videos from the protests:

More photos can be seen at Nûkurd website here.

Poll: What’s your opinion on the proposed boycott?

36 seats in Parliament. Now what?

Labour, Freedom and Democracy Block

It has been a week since the 12 June elections in Turkey. The dust is settling and a clearer picture is emerging of what’s in store for the new parliament once the next legislative session begins around 01 October. High on the agenda is the drafting of a new, civilian constitution. The current constitution, put into effect in 1982 on the heels of the 1980 military coup, is based on a Kemalist notion of Turkish national identity, which is homogeneous and leaves no room for ethnic and religious difference. It is a ‘straightjacket’ on Turkish democracy, limiting the rights of individuals and privileging the state at the expense of the citizen.

The swearing in ceremony for MPs in the 550-seat Grand National Assembly of Turkey (Turkish Parliament, or simply Meclis in Turkish) will be 24 June. The day before the swearing-in, a newly formed commission from the pro-Kurdish Labour, Democracy and Freedom Block (in Kurdish, Bloka Ked, Azadî û Demokrasî, or KAD), which won 36 seats, will issue a declaration. The statement will clarify the KAD-Block’s standing in the parliament, the way, methods and strategies to be followed for a solution to problems. The KAD-Block was created and supported by the BDP, the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party.

On Sunday evening last, as results were still coming in, Turkish PM Erdoğan said that the nation had not only given his party a mandate to govern, but to draft a new constitution: ‘The people gave us a message to build the new constitution through consensus and negotiation.’ He said that the AKP would discuss the new constitution with opposition parties and parties outside of parliament, in ‘all-encompassing’ negotiations.

With their 36 seats, the KAD-Block will play an important role in any future constitutional debate, and the Kurdish question looks set to move to the top of the political agenda. Said Sebahat Tuncel, Kurdish MP from Istanbul in a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, Erdoğan ‘now faces a major domestic challenge,’ referring to the writing up a new, inclusive constitution. She also said that the 36-MP strong block ‘will be the most effective check on the AKP’s destructive policy’ of repressing the Kurds.

However, some are expressing caution regarding the KAD-Block’s calls for specific demands. Taha Akyol, for example, a political analyst with CNNTürk and Milliyet newspaper, said that while the BDP has become ‘a force that cannot be ignored’ it ‘must know the limits of its demands.’ While Akyol is a Turkish nationalist, this will certainly be an issue in the constitutional negotiations, as the AKP is not going to want to be seen as caving in to Kurdish demands. After all, Erdoğan ran a very nationalist campaign to garner MHP (far-right, nationalist party) votes. But, after the election, Erdoğan apologised to his rivals for his actions and language during the campaigns. Erdoğan’s words were probably meant more to take votes from the MHP party to keep them from reaching the 10% election threshold. But still, it will be hard now to backpedal.

Ahmet Türk, newly elected KAD MP from Mêrdîn said that the ‘new constitution must be based on democratic autonomy, which must be a topic in the open for discussion and we will work towards this. If these demands are ignored by the state, the people will create their own method to establish the system they are aiming for.’

Leyla Zana speaks in Diyarbakır

Leyla Zana, elected from Diyarbakır, speaking in Kurdish to an audience of tens of thousands at a rally last Monday said, ‘The Kurds will be a partner of this state.’ While the logical assumption is that MPs elected from the pro-Kurdish KAD Block will be partners (the AKP needs partners), it is not clear to what extent Kurds will be included in the process of re-writing the country’s constitution.

Murat Yetkin, writing for Hürriyet Daily News, says the ‘CHP (centre-left, People’s Republican Party) is always a safer partner for the AKP for major political projects like amending or rewriting the constitution, in order to secure a consensus acceptable for a wider base in society. The BDP, which is focused more on Kurdish rights, might be an easier partner for Erdoğan at first sight, but such a partnership, which might exclude both the CHP and the MHP, might cause new fault lines in Turkey’s political arena. It may cast a shadow, says Yetkin, over the new constitution, creating doubts whether the government sort of bargained for the presidential system in return for group – not individual – rights for Kurds.’

Some of the conditions the Kurds will expect in any new constitution, says KAD MP-elect Hasip Kaplan from southeastern province of Şırnak, are the implementation of democratic autonomy, the use of mother tongues and the granting of constitutional citizenship.’ He also said that it should contain ‘expansion of freedom of thought in its largest sense.’

These are ‘demands’ that may be outside of the ‘limits’ referred to by Akyol. But what then is left? How can the Kurds accept anything less than full equality as Kurdish citizens of the Turkish Republic? In a meeting of Turkish intellectuals, journalists and lawyers earlier last week, Osman Can, one of the lawyers present, called on political parties to abandon what they earlier termed ‘red lines’ and said parties must decide to talk without preconditions. One of the ‘reddest’ of lines is that of mother-tongue education in Kurdish. It is a flashpoint in the debate on Kurdish rights and a key theme of the Kurd’s political agenda. Abandoning red lines may be easier said than done.

Nabi Avcı, a newly elected AKP deputy from Eskişehir and former senior media advisor to Erdoğan, said at a meeting with members of the foreign press that the ‘Kurdish issue’ is also on the government’s agenda ‘not as a problem but as a broader issue.’ He also said that ‘it is not right to highlight any priorities at the moment.’

Some of these comments may not bode well for Kurdish expectations. Ahmet Türk says that ‘the election results mean that the Kurdish people are united and our demands are going to be on the national agenda. If not, there will be more pain and more problems in the future’ and that if their ‘demands are ignored by the state, the people will create their own method to establish the system they are aiming for.’

The threat of ‘more pain and more problems in the future’ that Türk mentioned is real, according to the deputy head of the ruling AKP in Diyarbakır, Mohammed Akar. He says that if there is disappointment, the whole idea of integration will end. Separation and conflict will come to the fore. Akar added that ‘the danger that is lying ahead is a nightmare.’

The AKP may have received the largest percentage of popular votes at 49.95%, but the fact is that in 2002 they had 363 seats in the Meclis, in 2007 they had 341 seats, and now, in 2011, the AKP will seat only 326 parliamentarians. From 2007 to 2011, the overall percentage of votes increased by 3.3%, but their percentage of seats in the Meclis will decline by 4.5%.

Erdoğan’s AKP had been vying for a 2/3’s super majority (367 seats), which would have allowed it to rewrite the constitution single-handedly with no input from any other parties. A 3/5’s majority (330 seats) would have offered the AKP the option of drafting a new constitution on its own and then submitting it to a public referendum. They are only four seats from a 3/5’s majority and could try and look for defectors to make up the gap.

click to enlarge

However, the Kurds are the ones who are really gaining ground. In 2007 they captured 20 seats in parliament. This time round the pro-Kurdish KAD-Block managed to get 6.85% of the national vote, which resulted in 36 of its candidates getting elected. Not all of them are Kurdish, which was a strategy the BDP had to broaden its support base. And 11 of the 36 are women. A list of the 36 and election percentages can be found here.

In an attempt to draw support from religious voters, an alliance was formed with two other pro-Kurdish parties—the Participatory Democracy Party (KADEP) and the Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR). Former KADEP leader Şerafettin Elçi was picked as a candidate in Diyarbakır.

Political Science at Istanbul University, Dr Nuray Mert, noted that this was ‘a very successful outcome for the Block but it goes unnoticed that the Block didn’t participate in the elections as a political party. Therefore, the elections already began unfair[ly].’

In Diyarbakır, seven KAD-Block candidates got 429,000 votes and won six seats, whereas the AKP received five seats with only 231,000 votes. Without the 10 percent threshold, says Henri Barkey, KAD-Block candidates would have probably gotten as many as 50 seats. In other words, BDP is stronger than the number of seats it will control in the new parliament.

The Kurdish political group may be stronger than the number of seats, but for now they have to work with their strength in parliament. A change in the 10% election threshold will also be a necessary component in any new constitution to ensure more inclusivity in the future.

For now there is a major battle ahead as political camps scramble to put together their bargaining points and prepare for October. It will be interesting to see too what happens between now and the opening of that new, legislative session.

Since the election, the Turkish government has shut down Kurdish media outlets and has continued its arrest waves of Kurdish politicians. More than 100 have been detained in the past week alone. In spite of this, a PKK ceasefire has been extended to see what will happen with reforms and constitutional change. If the repressive methods continue and Erdoğan fails to take an historic step in partnering with the Kurds in the drafting of the new constitution, all hell will break loose.

Speaking of the failure of the AKP to garner its wished-for super-majority and rewrite the constitution by itself, former US Ambassador to Turkey, Ross Wilson, said that ‘[g]iven concerns about Erdoğan’s megalomania and authoritarian tendencies that have gained traction in Turkey in recent months, the outcome is good for Turkish democracy.’ Let’s hope it is good too for Kurdish aspirations.

Zana says government fears a solution

Leyla Zana in Silvan

Thousands of Kurds were in the streets today protesting against the ongoing military and political operations carried out by police and army. Close to 900 people have been detained since Turkey’s Supreme Election Board (YSK) barred a group of parliamentary candidates from running in the upcoming election. The YSK reversed its decision a few days later.

Leyla Zana, independent candidate for parliament, spoke to a huge crowd in her hometown of Silvan. Zana is running as a candidate from Diyarbakır in the ‘Labour, Democracy and Freedom’ bloc, an umbrella group for independent candidates in the 12 June general elections. Many are supported by the BDP.

Said Zana to the crowd, ‘This country is witnessing very dark forces trying all they can to prevent the Kurdish Question from being solved. These forces do not want peace, do not want this question to be resolved. Indeed they fear a solution.’

Zana also said of Turkish PM Erdoğan, ‘You are not bigger than these people.’

Twenty years ago Zana used Kurdish in parliament while taking the oath of office. She was later stripped of her parliamentary immunity and sent to prison on terrorism charges, where she remained behind bars for ten years (1994-2004). While in prison, she was awarded the European Parliament’s human rights prize for her efforts to advance Kurdish minority rights. The European Court of Human Rights later ruled that Turkey had violated Zana’s right to freedom of expression and ordered the government to pay her compensation.

Leyla Zana turns 50 on Tuesday.

Watch video:

YSK REVERSES COURSE!

The Supreme Election Board (YSK) in Turkey just announced that it would reinstate the candidacy of many of the candidates it had barred just three days ago. In the intervening three days, clashes have erupted in several cities in Turkey resulting in the death of one Kurdish protester, Ibrahim Oruç (age 18), whose funeral was held today. An estimated 30,000 people marched through the streets of Bismil where his funeral took place.

Sırrı Sakık, a Kurdish lawmaker and candidate for the upcoming general elections, told HaberTürk television that the YSK decision is a ‘benefit to democracy but the price has been heavy’ and that the decision was ‘tainted with blood.’

The six BDP-supported candidates who were reinstated are:

Gültan Kışanak, BDP party co-chair, who will run from Siirt

Ertuğrul Kürkçü, Bianet Project Coordinator and journalist (Mersin)

Leyla Zana, former MP and political prisoner (Diyarbakır)

Hatip Dicle, former MP & co-chair of banned DTP (Diyarbakır)

Sebahat Tuncel, lawyer and Istanbul deputy (Istanbul)

Salih Yıldız, former mayor of Yüksekova (Hakkari)

Not all convictions are created equal

YSK (Election Board) office

Just as it looked as though the momentum was building for Kurdish politicians, the Turkish government has once again stepped in to block their efforts to become part of the political landscape. Yesterday, Turkey’s senior election board (Yüksek Seçim Kurulu, YSK) disqualified 12 independent candidates from running for parliament in the upcoming June election on the grounds that they are legally unfit to be candidates. Most of them were Kurds or supported by the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

YSK’s action could effectively block the prospects for any additional Kurdish representatives to be elected when the parliamentary voting is held in mid-June. Turkey’s Kurdish minority has only 20 representatives in parliament and wants to cross the 10% threshold to be represented as a party in the new parliament. The party had planned to back 61 candidates in 39 provinces who wanted to run as independents under the ‘Labour, Democracy and Freedom’ block in order to overcome that threshold for political parties.

Some of the Kurdish politicians declared ineligible had previously been approved by YSK when they ran for office in the 2007 election. YSK attributed the discrepancy to its lack of complete information about them four years ago, including the unlikely excuse that they were unaware that some had criminal records. The YSK’s action is widely viewed among Kurds as an underhanded tactic to disenfranchise them.

‘This is a political decision that prevents participation of Kurds in democratic politics,’ said Ahmet Türk, a banned Kurdish politician and former member of the DTP, a Kurdish political party closed down by the Constitutional Court in 2009. ‘Despite all our democratic efforts, politics has been blocked for Kurds.’

Now the BDP is pondering whether to withdraw from the June elections in response to the YSK’s decision to bar some of its candidates. Selahattin Demirtaş, co-chair of the BDP described the upcoming poll as undemocratic and called on the Parliament to postpone the 12 June vote.

Many of independent candidates were blocked due to past convictions. Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan too has a past conviction and has spent time in prison. He served four months in 1998 for reading a poem that was deemed anti-Kemalist. But not all convictions are created equal. When a Kurd reads a poem, or sings, or dances, or marches, the charges are almost always tied to terrorism. And it is those candidates with terrorism-related convictions who were barred.

Leyla Zana (left)

One of those barred candidates is Leyla Zana. Twenty years ago Zana used Kurdish in parliament while taking the oath of office. She was later stripped of her parliamentary immunity and sent to prison on terrorism charges, where she remained behind bars for ten years (1994-2004). While in prison, she was awarded the European Parliament’s human rights prize for her efforts to advance Kurdish minority rights. The European Court of Human Rights later ruled that Turkey had violated Zana’s right to freedom of expression and ordered the government to pay her compensation. Zana would have run as a candidate from Diyarbakır.

The other BDP-supported candidates who were barred from running are BDP party co-chair Gültan Kışanak who would have run from Siirt, Hatip Dicle, a current KCK suspect (Diyarbakır), Bianet Project Coordinator and journalist Ertuğrul Kürkçü (Mersin), Isa Gürbüz (Elazığ), Salih Yıldız (Hakkari), Participatory Democracy Party (KADEP) leader Şerafettin Elçi (Diyarbakır) and Istanbul DTP deputy Sebahat Tuncel (Istanbul).

Aysel Tuğluk, former DTP Member of Parliament and current candidate, warned the situation could possibly lead to ‘new clashes’ in the country’s southeast. Turkish officials frequently allege that pro-Kurdish political parties act as the political wing for PKK rebels. Tuğluk was sentenced in 2009 for violating anti-terrorism laws when she referred to PKK fighters as ‘heroes to some’ but was not barred this round by the YSK.

Selahattin Demirtaş called the election board’s decision ‘a political operation; a political purge’ that would benefit the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the elections. ‘The state has decided to hand over [Turkey's south-eastern] region to the AKP,’ Demirtaş told broadcaster CNNTürk.

Demirtaş was clear in underlining that ‘we are in the presence of a clear conspiracy against our block. The candidates YSK has banned were absolutely entitled to run as candidates. We have legal papers in our hands. There is no lawful reason to ban them. This is why we have to look at this decision as the political planned will to prevent our block to contest the elections.’ Commenting on the excluded candidates, Demirtaş underlined that ‘Sebahat Tuncel and Gültan Kışanak are deputies and at the last elections the YSK did not find any problem in them contesting the elections.’ He went so far as to say that this ‘is nothing short of a declaration of war.’

Demonstrations in Diyarbakır

Thousands of people took to the streets to protest against YSK’s decision to bar these candidates. They marched to the ruling AKP office in Diyarbakır, chanting slogans against PM Erdoğan, who is seen as one of the plotters against Kurdish politicians. Demonstrations were also held in Batman, Mersin and Van.

The BDP had announced on Sunday its independent nominees, including six candidates who are suspects in the ongoing trial of the illegal Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, which resumes today. One of those candidates, Hatip Dicle, was banned by the YSK. The other five KCK suspects include Faysal Sarı from Şırnak; Ibrahim Ayhan from Şanlıurfa; Kemal Aktaş from Van; Selma Irmak from Şırnak and Gülseren Yıldırım from Mardin.

Emine Ayna, Nursel Aydoğan, and journalist Altan Tan will be independent candidates from Diyarbakır. Former deputies of the now-closed Democratic Society Party, or DTP, Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk will run from Mardin.

In Istanbul the BDP is running director and writer Sırrı Süreyya Önder and former BDP Istanbul provincial chairman Mustafa Avcı. Labour Party (EMEP) leader Levent Tüzel is another independent deputy supported by the BDP in Istanbul. Tüzel was an independent candidate from Izmir in the 2007 parliamentary elections but was not elected.

Hakkari and Şırnak are also among the provinces where the BDP seeks to have more than one deputy. These two provinces, which lent strong support to the BDP in its call for a boycott of the 12 September referendum with more than 90 percent of the voters refusing to cast a vote, are regarded as a ‘liberated zone’ by the BDP. The aim of the BDP in Hakkari is to have all of three independent candidates elected. BDP party co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş is one of the candidates who will run from Hakkari. Another BDP-sponsored candidate from Hakkari is Esat Canan, an ethnic Kurd and former CHP deputy for Hakkari. The third Hakkari candidate is Kurdish writer and journalist Adil Kurt.

As for the BDP’s Şırnak deputy candidates, current Şırnak deputy Hasip Kaplan and former DTP Deputy Chairman Selma Irmak will run as independent deputies in the elections from there. Irmak, as mentioned above, is also currently under arrest as part of the KCK investigation.

Erol Dora, a lawyer of Assyrian origin, will run from Mardin, which has the largest Assyrian population in Turkey. In Dersim (Tunceli), which is predominantly Alevi, Alevi folk music singer Ferhat Tunç will run.

Other candidates on the list include Bengi Yıldız, Ayla Akat, Sırrı Sakık, Akın Birdal and Hasip Kaplan. Yüksel Avşar, a relative of the artist Hülya Avşar, will run for Ardahan.

Speaking at a meeting in Diyarbakır where the candidates were announced, Demirtaş said the candidates were elected from among 400 nominees and that the party had held primary elections in 11 provinces. He added that 13 of the party’s 61 candidates are women and 36 of them are university graduates.

The BDP has defined its deputy candidate list as a ‘picture of Turkey’ and Demirtaş said that ‘every single colleague nominated for the elections should be embraced by our people [Kurds] in every region. They should work for the elections hand-in-hand without causing controversy.’

AlJazeera gets it wrong on political party ban reform

Was just reading an article in AlJazeera that stated the following:

And Turkey’s Kurds, who arguably benefit most from the proposed changes that make it more difficult to ban political parties, having seen judges repeatedly throw their own representatives out of parliament, are boycotting the entire referendum.

This is not true!! The original provision to change the law on banning political parties was removed from the final reform package. It is not part of tomorrow’s referendum.

When voting took place on individual articles of the reform package in early May, this particular provision was rejected.

The AKP had wanted to make bans conditional on the approval of a parliamentary committee comprised of five members from each of the three biggest parties, moving the decision-making process from the courts to the parliament.

This proposal was rejected by three votes after a number of AKP legislators voted against it. The pro-Kurdish BDP also voted against it because the proposed article would have excluded the BDP from the 5-member committee.

Under current law, the chief prosecutor can file a case with the Constitutional Court to have a party closed, fined or its members banned from politics.

AlJazeera says that confusion shrouds Turkey’s reform package.  AlJazeera, too, is confused.

About the CHP’s decision to create a commission to study the Kurdish issue

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, newly-elected head of the CHP

The Republican People’s Party’s (CHP), the staunchly secular, centre-left party headed by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (since 22 May 2010), has announced that it has formed a seven-member commission to study the Kurdish issue. The CHP said the commission would visit the Kurdish regions of Turkey to ‘form an official party stance on a range of issues involving the Kurdish problem.’ The announcement has been cautiously welcomed by experts, and is a major shift in policy from the CHP position under the former leadership of Deniz Baykal. The CHP under Baykal had ‘fallen into a rejectionist rut coloured with a streak of nationalism, standing for little beyond being against whatever the AKP was for, even if that included liberalising reforms.’

It seems now the CHP has begun its political machinations to position itself for next year’s elections. This move to form a commission says that the CHP believes the current party in power, the AKP, has failed in its efforts to resolve the Kurdish issue. Kılıçdaroğlu is a seasoned public servant and politician, and also an Alevi Kurd. He is most certainly trying to re-brand the party to garner Kurdish votes. Erdoğan has dismissed Kılıçdaroğlu’s popular reformist image saying he is nothing more than a ‘product of media headlines.’

Sezgin Tanrıkulu, former chair of the Diyarbakır Bar Association, said the CHP’s decision to review its Kurdish policy is an important step by itself. ‘The CHP is an important actor [in working] for a solution. Their discourse was an exclusionary one and they paid for it in the elections. Their policy must change and they should act bravely.’

Former CHP leader Deniz Baykal had said that Prime Minister Erdoğan’s Kurdish Opening threatened ‘to destroy and split Turkey.’ He said that granting the right of education in languages other than Turkish would lead to division. In a parliamentary session last November, Baykal and his CHP MPs walked out after heated words with Erdoğan about the proposed reforms.

The CHP at that time announced some red lines, which they said may not be crossed. One of the CHP’s red lines was that there would be no education in the Kurdish language. However, twenty-one years ago, the CHP prepared a Kurdish report in which it suggested that the obstacles to using the Kurdish language in every field, including education, should be removed and that Kurdish language departments should be established at universities. The report was later taken off the party’s website and the CHP’s leadership shied way from supporting government efforts advocating similar resolutions. What place will education in Kurdish have in the CHP’s new report? Public education in Kurdish is currently forbidden in Turkey and has long been a demand by the Kurds. Ahmet Türk, former head of the now-defunct pro-Kurdish DTP, said last year that ‘[w]ithout mother-tongue education, there will be no solution to ongoing problems.’

Haluk Koç, the chairman of the newly-announced commission, said the commission wants ‘to hear criticism as well as suggestions for composing a detailed policy which will be submitted to the decision-making bodies of the party. We are planning to form a policy which is not hostage to ethnicity or [religious] beliefs.’

Altan Tan: 'We can give credit to the CHP also, if their report is the right one.'

Conservative Kurdish intellectual Altan Tan is cautiously optimistic about the work of the commission. He told Today’s Zaman that the CHP’s decision is a positive step, but it is too early to pass judgment. ‘If the CHP continues to act with its fascist mentality of the 1930s, instead of adopting a contemporary social democratic approach, then nothing positive will come of this effort. When I take into consideration the CHP’s performance until now, I am not very hopeful, but even to take a decision like this is a sign of a softening in its position,’ he said.

He added that there are some people within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who have the same ‘fascist mentality,’ but despite their presence in the party, some segments of Kurdish society have still given credit to the AK Party.

Tan had said in a November 2008 interview published in Today’s Zaman that the ‘AK Party is not the same AK Party that the Kurds fell in love with. Kurds also face the dilemma of not having an alternative.’ Could the CHP be an alternative? Perhaps, as latest polls show that the CHP under Kılıçdaroğlu’s leadership could garner 32% of the vote. Erdoğan will certainly be ramping up his criticism of Kılıçdaroğlu and the CHP in the coming months as the elections draw closer.

sources:

Karabat, Ayşe. CHP decision to study Kurdish problem positive step, experts say. Today’s Zaman, 15 July 2010.

Toxic Blame Game Spiralling Out of Control. Kurdistan Commentary, 09 July 2010.

Schleifer, Yigal. Turkey’s ‘Gandhi’ Gets Tough with Governing Party. EurasiaNet, 27 May 2010.

Matur, Bejan. Kılıçdaroğlu’s Kurdish and Alevi identity. Today’s Zaman, 27 May 2010.

AKP’s Kurdish Initiative. Kurdistan Commentary, 15 November 2009.

Doğan, Yonca. Altan Tan: Kurds’ love affair with AK Party ending. Today’s Zaman, 18 November 2008.

Counting begins

With celebratory fire already in the air, Gorran is poised to make huge inroads in Kurdish areas in this parliamentary election in Iraq.  Sbeiy reports that Gorran is ahead in most polling centres where they’ve done the counting.  Gorran is claiming 10 seats in Slemani—more than 50% of the total.  Gorran is running even with Kurdish Alliance in Chamchamal.  Kurdish Alliance is ahead in many of the rural areas.  Waiting on results from Hewler.

Tensions high in Kurdistan in run-up to elections

Less than one month remains until the parliamentary elections in Iraq, scheduled for 07 March. Campaigning began in earnest late last week. Said Barham Salih (PM of the Kurdistan Region) on his Twitter page, ‘Election campaigns launched.. festive mood in Kurdistan.’

The ‘festive’ mood has all but disappeared as unrest has gripped the region, especially in the city of Suleimaniya.

Gorran supporter holding up Gorran flag

Gorran (Change) list movement spokesman Muhammed Rahim said that anti-terror units of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) shot at Gorran supporters two nights ago. Gorran claims that three of the wounded were then kidnapped by unknown men from the hospital. Kurdish satellite channel Gali Kurdistan, related to the PUK, accused Gorran of shooting. Reports have surfaced that it was a special unit of the Asayish (security agency) and not the anti-terror unit that was responsible for the shooting.

On Sunday an office of the Islamic Union of Kurdistan (Yekgirtu) was shot at in Halabja. The office of the Gorran list in Shaqlawa was also shot at.

In Erbil, city officials cut the electricity when KNN-TV began broadcasting speeches of Gorran leaders. Later the KNN team was

Kurdistan Islamic Union

arrested and their tapes confiscated by KDP forces.

Commenting on these press freedom violations, Kurdish intellectual and writer Aso Jabar told Reporters Without Borders: “The Kurdish authorities are showing their darkest side through these acts of repression. Real democracies do not oppress their people for using the right to free speech.”

Kurdistan List

There are three major Kurdish parties: the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and Gorran (Movement for Change). A fourth party, the Islamic Union of Kurdistan, has five representatives in Baghdad and draws most of its support from the Dohuk region.

The KDP and the PUK are well-established, historical parties advocating Kurdish rights. Together, they form the Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan (Kurdistan List) and are currently represented in the Iraqi parliament. They also control the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Kurdish Regional Assembly and are expected to remain united for the 2010 elections. Gorran, a splinter group of the PUK, was formed only in the run-up to the August 2009 elections for the Kurdistan regional parliament and won 25 of 111 seats. Gorran is not expected to align itself with the KDP or PUK before the elections, but observers assume that it will cooperate with them later in order to maintain a strong Kurdish voice in national politics.

Many in the region, however, are fed up and will not vote. A Kurdish friend in Kirkuk sent an e-mail to me a couple days ago in which he said: ‘If we vote or we don’t there is absolutely nothing changed. All we see every time is the same names and the same family. Even if some are not occupying any formal posts, they are still in power and enjoy the absolute authority. There has never been a change and even the so-called ‘Change’ or Gorran Movement is nothing but a chip from the old corrupted block.’

Sources:

Escalation in Suleimani Between Gorran & PUK. Curdonia Radio, 17 February 2010.

Independent journalists harassed, attacked in Kurdistan in run-up to elections. Reporters Without Borders, 16 February 2010.

Myers, Steven Lee. In Northern Iraq, a Vote Seems Likely to Split. New York Times, February 8, 2010.

Shootings in Kurdistan before Iraqi Elections. Medya News, 16 February 2010

Talabani, Barazani call for honest elections. AlSumaria, 12 February 2010.

Tensions in Suleimaniya Grow. Rudaw, 17 February 2010.

The Kurdish Parties. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Kirkuk Deal on Saturday?

cartoon_kirkuk_guns

Cartoon by Qassem H.J. who is a newspaper cartoonist working in Iraq. The cartoon above appeared in the NYTimes on 19 August 2008.

The absolute deadline they said was yesterday. But the vote on Kirkuk has been postponed again…now until Saturday. Statements via Twitter and blog postings suggest an ‘acceptable’ resolution might pass this weekend. Four competing proposals have been ‘boiled down to a single text,’ said Kurdish deputy Khaled Chwani.

Another Kurdish MP, Mahmud Othman, said ‘up until now nothing has been agreed, but Saturday afternoon we hope to reach a deal and include it on the agenda.’ Othman posted yesterday on his Twitter page that ‘a solution for Kirkuk seems in sight. We are putting the final touches on a deal fair for all & hopefully pass the law on Saturday.’

AlSumaria reported that Kurdistan Alliance MP Abdul Bari Zebari told Al Hayat Newspaper that his party has accepted the legal committee’s proposal over the elections law which gives Kirkuk a special status.

According to AKnews, Tania Tal’at, another MP on the Kurdistan Alliance List, says that parliamentary blocs have reached a preliminary agreement to hold elections adopting the 2009 voter registry.’ She also suggested that they ‘will soon reach an agreement.’

Muhammed Tamim, a legislator from Kirkuk with the Arab Front for National Dialogue, said the current proposal has received support from Arabs and Turkomen, but no response yet has been given from the Kurdistan Alliance List.

However, the head of the Iraqi electoral commission, Faraj al-Haidari, announced yesterday that it is now too late to organise a general election as planned on 16 January after repeated delays by MPs in adopting an electoral law.

The final word on the timing of the election rests with parliament, which meets again this weekend. MPs may vote to push the date back towards the constitutional deadline of 31 January 2010.

MPs have long been deadlocked over the status of Kirkuk. At issue is ethnic representation and control of the city. While Kurds favour using current voter registration lists and keeping Kirkuk as one constituency, Arabs and Turkomen want 2004 or 2005 records to be used, or for Kirkuk to be split into two constituencies.

In the 1957 census it was estimated that Kurds made up 48.3% of the population in Kirkuk, Arabs 28.2%, and Turkomen 21.4%. The rest were Assyrian-Chaldean Christians and other smaller minority groups. Last spring the percentages were estimated at Kurdish 52%, Arab 35%, and Turkomen only 12%.

As a compromise measure the tentative agreement will assign one extra seat to the Arabs and Turkomen and the most recent voter registration records will be used. The proposal that was hammered out also suggests making the results of the election provisional, subject to an examination of the voter rolls to ensure accuracy.

If population counts from 2004 or 2005 were to be used, as Arab and Turkomen had wanted, percentages would favour these groups.

Recently elected Kurdish Prime Minister, Barham Salih, said back in 2004 of Kirkuk ‘We [Kurds] have a claim to Kirkuk rooted in history, geography and demographics.’

Ethnic politics and Iran’s election

Today there is relative quiet on the streets of Iran.  Protests had spread from the capital to Esfahan, Tabriz, Shiraz, as far east as Sistan-Baluchestan, and as far west as cities in and around the larger Kurdish region such as Orumiyeh and Kermanshah.  According to sources inside Iran, there was unrest at the universities in Sistan-Baluchestan, Kermanshah and Mazandaran.  In Kermanshah, Iranian security forces raided the university and dormitory and several were reportedly injured and taken into custody. In Orumiyeh, a rally of 3,000 people was held before Iranian security forces attacked the rally and at least 2 people were killed.

Election results by province (source: irantracker.org).  Click for larger image.

Election results by province (source: irantracker.org). Click for larger image.

Some Kurdish cities, such as Sanandaj, were reported to have boycotted the elections altogether. An anonymous source that belonged to the boycotting group said, “It is not an election or choice to choose between bad and worse. We want a regime change.”

Tweets from several sources report that in Marivan (Kordestan province) people attacked government offices and burned portraits of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad.

Since becoming president in 2005, Ahmadinejad’s policies promote subversion of regional identities in favour of a unified revolutionary, Islamic identity. Tehran has been reluctant to continue granting increased regional autonomy. Heightened Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) activity in the peripheral areas, particularly in the South-eastern region dominated by the Baloch people, and the North-western Kurdish areas, has provoked a series of backlashes against the regime.

The discourse on ethnic politics has drastically expanded during this past election, as an attempt to address minority issues. According to news reports on the campaign, Mousavi campaigned heavily in the periphery provinces such as Azerbaijan, Khuzestan, Kermanshah, Mazandaran and Golestan and was a popular candidate.  Studies on voting behaviour in Iran suggest that peripheral groups are most likely to vote for reformist candidates. These voters respond not only to ethnic ties, but also to active campaigning.  As seen in the election results province map, this theory is, to some extent, borne out. Ahmadinejad’s strongest support came from the central and eastern regions of the country; the least diverse areas.  This too is where he had the most support in the 2005 election.

The three candidates who ran against Ahmadinejad (Mousavi, Karoubi and Rezai) presented Iran’s Guardian Council with a list of election irregularities. They included the exclusion of their representatives from polling stations and counts; shortages of ballot papers in opposition strongholds; packing of electoral committees with Ahmadinejad supporters; vote buying; improper use of state resources and media; and using the identity cards of dead people to cast ballots.

Iranian government reports the following results for the four Kurdish provinces in the NW of the country:

ILAM

Iran map: ethnic groups

Iran map: ethnic groups

Ahmadinejad: 65%
Mousavi: 31%
Rezai: 2%
Karoubi: 2%

KERMANSHAH
Ahmadinejad: 59%
Mousavi: 39%
Rezai: 1%
Karoubi: <1%

KORDESTAN
Ahmadinejad: 53%
Mousavi: 44%
Rezai: 1%
Karoubi: 2%

WESTERN AZERBAIJAN
Ahmadinejad: 47%
Mousavi: 50%
Rezai: 1%
Karoubi: 2%

For a city by city breakdown of election results click here.

sources:

Analysis: Protests in Iran spread to major cities in Kurdistan, Kurdish Media, 19 June 2009

Fletcher, Martin. The evidence that points to Ahmadinejad stealing Iranian election, Times Online, 18 June 2009.

Special Report: Elections Iran 2009, UNPO (Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization), 18 June 2009

Barham Salih and the upcoming KRG elections

Dr Barham Salih

Dr Barham Salih

One of Iraq’s two deputy prime ministers, Barham Salih, is expected to resign within days to lead the main Kurdish bloc in elections in the autonomous Kurdish region.  Salih, born in 1960, is one of two deputies for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a member of the country’s Shiite Arab majority.  Salih is deputy for the Kurds and Rafa al-Essawi for the Sunni Arabs.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Kurdish regional president Mesûd Barzanî and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, in which Salih is a leading figure, have agreed to appoint Barham Salih as Prime Minister of the KRG if their coalition list wins the upcoming Kurdistan elections.  The news was relayed by Fu’ad Ma’sum, the head of the Kurdish bloc in the Parliament.

The Kurdish Alliance (KDP and PUK) is strongly expected to win in the upcoming elections on 25 July.  If Salih becomes KRG Prime Minister, he would replace Nêçîrvan Barzanî, Mesûd Barzanî’s nephew.

Salih has been seen by Western diplomats as one of the most progressive and professional members of the Iraqi government, in which he has been a central part of a recent push to attract foreign investment to the war-torn country.

Salih was elected to the Iraqi National Assembly in December 2005 as part of the Kurdistan Alliance list. Salih also chairs a committee on oil and energy policy.  He was Prime Minister of the PUK region of Iraqi Kurdistan from 2001-2004. While working as an engineering consultant, he also served as spokesman for the PUK in London and later in Washington.

Dr Salih has a Twitter site and frequently ‘tweets’ about his activities.

Sources:

Iraq deputy PM to quit to take up Kurdish role, AlArab Online, 06 June 2009

Deputy PM to quit to take up Kurdish region role, The Jordan Times, 07 June 2009

Talabani’s brother-in-law announces candidacy

Halo Ibrahim Ahmed (photo: Al-Sharq Al-Awsat)

Helo Ibrahim Ahmed (photo: Al-Sharq Al-Awsat)

President Jalal Talabani’s brother-in-law, Helo Ibrahim Ahmed, has posted his candidacy for the Kurdistan Regional presidency to compete with current president Massoud Barazani in elections slated for 25 July 2009.

Helo Ibrahim Ahmad, brother of Talabani’s wife, is the secretary general of the Progress Party, which he founded in November 2008 after being dismissed from the PUK.

Ahmed was born in 1951 and left Kurdistan in 1976 to live in Europe.   He earned a doctorate in computer science at the Technical Institute in Stockholm and returned to the Kurdistan region in 1991.

Last year Ahmed caused an uproar in journalistic and human rights circles after threatening to kill a journalist who he said insulted his late father in an article.   In an e-mail communication Ahmed wrote to journalist Nabaz Goran on 28 February 2008 in which he said, ‘[I will] kill you, [Goran] even if I have one day left of my life.’

Hawlati’s editor-in-chief Abid Aref said of Ahmed’s comments in response to Goran’s article were ‘an attack on freedom of expression and democracy in Kurdistan.’

The candidate’s platform calls for making the Kurdistan Region a model of human rights and peaceful coexistence in the Middle East, applying the principles of justice and democracy while fighting against corruption.

sources:

Talabani brother-in-law runs for elections, Kerkuk.net, 20 May 2009

Hama-Saeed, M. Death threat attack on ‘Freedom of Expression’ in Kurdistan, ICR No. 248, 10 March 1008

رئيس حزب التقدم أول مرشح لمنصب رئاسة إقليم كردستان , Aswat al-Iraq, 19 May 2009

Elections on 25 July says Barzani

Iraqi Kurds to elect new parliament on July 25
05 May 2009
Reuters UK

by Shamal Aqrawi

ARBIL, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraq’s largely autonomous Kurdish region has set an election for its regional parliament for July 25, a senior official said Tuesday.

barzani_elections“I call (on candidates) to understand and respect political diversity … Political groups have the freedom to campaign but not to defame others,” Massoud Barzani, president of the northern Kurdistan region, told the regional parliament.

Kurdish officials have blamed budgetary and technical problems for a delay in holding the election which was originally planned for May 19.

For years, Kurdistan has been tightly controlled by two parties headed by Barzani and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

Minority Kurds, who were persecuted by former leader Saddam Hussein, were outside Baghdad’s control in the 1990s and enjoy autonomy over domestic affairs under the Iraqi constitution enacted after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam in 2003.

Barzani called for a second election to take place immediately after the parliamentary poll to choose a president for the region. The president is currently chosen by lawmakers.

Barzani, Kurdish president since 2005, said he would not stand for another term unless this second vote was held.

A rift has grown over the past year between Kurdish leaders and the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad as the two sides struggle for control of oil resources and disputed territories.

Iraq is due to hold an election for its national parliament, in which Kurds have a major voice, at the end of 2009.

[Reuters article]