Kurdish issues in the latest HRW World Report

hrw2013reportThis year’s Human Rights Watch World Report details events around the world from 2012. The report assessed progress on human rights during the 2012 year in more than 90 countries.

Kurdistan Commentary has selected issues relating to the Kurds from this massive 665-page report and posted them below. Turkey continues to garner to bulk of the Kurdish-related news in the HRW report, as it has in years past. In the Syria section there is no mention of the Kurds at all. That chapter is focused on abuses taking place in the ongoing civil war in Syria, with no reference to Kurdish regions. The Iran chapter contains minimal information and the Kurdistan section of the Iraq chapter focuses, as in previous HRW World Reports, on freedom of expression and female genital mutilation.

Excerpts below.

Turkey

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government maintained economic growth in 2012 despite a slowdown, and a strong focus on developing a leading regional role, but failed to take convincing steps to address the country’s worsening domestic human rights record and democratic deficit. Prosecutors and courts continued to use terrorism laws to prosecute and prolong incarceration of thousands of Kurdish political activists, human rights defenders, students, journalists, and trade unionists. Free speech and media remained restricted, and there were ongoing serious violations of fair trial rights.

Cross-party parliamentary work on a new constitution to uphold the rule of law and fundamental rights continued, although it was unclear at this writing whether the government and opposition would reach a consensus on key issues such as minority rights, fundamental freedoms, and definition of citizenship.

In March, parliament passed legislation to establish a National Human Rights Institution, and in June, an ombudsman institution to examine complaints against public officials at every level. Human rights groups criticized government control of appointments to the national institution’s board and its failure to meet the test of independence from the government that United Nations guidelines recommend.

With the AKP condoning the mass incarceration of Kurdish activists, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) escalating attacks, 2012 saw a spiraling descent into violence with armed clashes resulting in hundreds of deaths of soldiers and PKK members, significantly higher than recent years. Throughout 2012, the PKK kidnapped security personnel and civilians, including local politicians, one parliamentarian, and teachers, releasing them periodically. A suspected PKK attack in Gaziantep in August left nine civilians dead, including four children. The non-resolution of the Kurdish issue remained the single greatest obstacle to progress on human rights in Turkey.

Freedom of Expression, Association, and Assembly

While there is open debate in Turkey, government policies, laws and the administration of justice continue to lag behind international standards. The government has yet to carry out a comprehensive review of all existing laws that restrict freedom of expression, although a draft reform package was expected in late 2012 at this writing.

The so-called third judicial reform package came into force in July 2012. It ends short-term bans of newspapers and journals, which the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has criticized as censorship. The law suspends investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of speech-related offenses carrying a maximum sentence of five years that were committed before December 31, 2011, provided the offense is not repeated within three years. Critics fear the threat of reinstatement will continue to muzzle debate.

Thousands charged with alleged terrorism offenses remained in prison throughout their trials. Most of those in prison are Kurdish activists and officials of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) standing trial for alleged links to the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK/TM), a body connected with the PKK, and in general the ongoing clampdown on the BDP and Kurdish political activism intensified in 2012 with repeated waves of mass arrests and prolonged imprisonment. The trial of 44 Journalists and media workers (31 in detention) began in Istanbul in September. They are among the many journalists, students, lawyers, trade unionists, and human rights defenders imprisoned and prosecuted for association with the KCK.

There was little progress in the main Diyarbakır KCK trial of 175 defendants. The 108 defendants who have been in custody for up to three-and-a half-years include Human Rights Association Diyarbakir branch head Muharrem Erbey, six serving local BDP mayors, several local BDP council members, and five elected BDP parliamentarians.

The July reform package also introduced and encouraged alternatives to remand imprisonment pending trial. But there were no indications that courts apply this to those already held in prolonged prison detention under terrorism charges. Statistics from the Ministry of Justice from May, the most recent data available, indicated that 8,995 of the 125,000-strong prison population were charged with terrorism offenses, and that half of the 8,995 were awaiting an initial verdict.

Combating Impunity

Great obstacles remain in securing justice for victims of abuses by police, military, and state officials.

In December 2011, a Turkish airforce aerial bombardment killed 34 Kurdish villagers, many of them young people and children, near Uludere, close to the Iraqi-Kurdistan border, as they crossed back into Turkey with smuggled goods. Concerns that there had been an official cover-up were fuelled by repeated statements by the prime minister rejecting calls by media, opposition parties, and families of victims for a full explanation of the incident, lack of a public inquiry, and a protracted criminal investigation that had not concluded at this writing.

Key International Actors

Turkey’s European Union accession negotiations remained stalled. The election of France’s President François Hollande helped to improve French-Turkish relations. In October, the European Commission in its annual progress report voiced strong criticism in most areas relating to human rights, emphasizing the importance of work on a new constitution, and stressing “the Kurdish issue remains a key challenge for Turkey’s democracy.”

The United States government remains an important influence on Turkey, sharing military intelligence on PKK movements in northern Iraq.

In January, a groundbreaking report by the Council of Europe (CoE) commissioner for human rights focused on “long-term, systemic problems in the administration of justice,” and its negative impact on human rights.

In its October review of Turkey, the UN Human Rights Committee recommended reforms including amending the National Human Rights Institution law, introducing comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, and addressing the vagueness of the definition of terrorism in law and prolonged pretrial detention.

Iran

Death Penalty

In 2011 authorities carried out more than 600 executions, second only to China, according to Amnesty International. Crimes punishable by death include murder, rape, trafficking and possessing drugs, armed robbery, espionage, sodomy, adultery, and apostasy.

Authorities have executed at least 30 people since January 2010 on the charge of moharebeh (“enmity against God”) or “sowing corruption on earth” for their alleged ties to armed groups. As of September 2012, at least 28 Kurdish prisoners were awaiting execution on national security charges, including moharebeh.

Treatment of Minorities

The government restricted cultural and political activities among the country’s Azeri, Kurdish, Arab, and Baluch minorities.

Iraq

In April, Iraq’s parliament passed a law criminalizing human trafficking, but has yet to effectively implement it. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has not taken steps to implement a 2011 law banning female genital mutilation (FGM).

Freedom of Assembly

Security forces continued to respond to peaceful protests with intimidation, threats, violence, and arrests of protesters. On February 17, hundreds of security forces of the KRG surrounded a peaceful demonstration in Sulaimaniya’s Sara Square. Dozens of men in civilian clothing attacked protesters and made many arrests.

Freedom of Expression

The environment for journalists remained oppressive in 2012. The Iraqi parliament was at this writing considering a number of laws restricting the media and freedom of expression and assembly, including the draft Law on the Freedom of Expression of Opinion, Assembly, and Peaceful Demonstration, and a draft law regulating the organization of political parties that punishes expression “violating public morals” and conveying “immoral messages.” In September, the Federal Supreme Court denied a petition by a local press freedom organization to repeal the Journalists Protection Law on the basis that it fails to offer meaningful protection to journalists and restricts access to information.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Iraq at the top of its 2012 Impunity Index, which focuses on unsolved journalist murders, and reported that there have been no convictions for murders of journalists since 2003. Iraqi authorities made no arrests for the murder of Hadi al-Mahdi, a journalist critical of the government, killed in September 2011. Another journalist, Zardasht Osman, was abducted and murdered after publishing a satirical article about KRG president Massoud Barzani in 2010. The KRG never released details of the investigation into his death.

Women’s and Girls’ Rights

In June 2011, the KRG parliament passed the Family Violence Bill, which includes provisions criminalizing forced and child marriages; abuse of girls and women; and a total ban on FGM. Implementation of the law is poor, and dozens of girls and practitioners said that they had either undergone or performed FGM since the law was passed. The authorities took no measures to investigate these cases.

To see the entire 665-page report, go to the World Report 2013 page on the HRW website.

Turkey’s Kurdish Impasse: The View from Diyarbakır

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has published a new report, Turkey’s Kurdish Impasse: The View from Diyarbakır. ICG’s summary of the report and recommendations are below. To view the full report, download it here.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

turkey-30nov12.ashxAs Turkey’s biggest Kurdish-majority city and province, Diyarbakır is critical to any examination of the country’s Kurdish problem and of the insurgent PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). The armed conflict has deteriorated in the past year and a half to its worst level in over a decade, with increased political friction and violence leading to the deaths of at least 870 people since June 2011. While as many Kurds live in western Turkey, particularly in Istanbul, as in the south east, grievances that underlie support within Kurdish communities for the PKK’s armed struggle are more clearly on display in predominantly Kurdish areas like Diyarbakır: perceived and real discrimination in the local government and economy, alienation from central authorities, anger at mass arrests of political representatives and frustration at the bans on the use of Kur­dish in education and public life. Yet Diyarbakır still offers hope for those who want to live together, if Ankara acts firmly to address these grievances and ensure equality and justice for all.

Across the political spectrum, among Kurds and Turks, rich and poor, Islamic and secular in Diyarbakır, there is a shared desire for a clear government strategy to resolve the chronic issues of Turkey’s Kurdish problem. Official recognition of Kurdish identity and the right to education and justice in mother languages is a priority. The city’s Kurds want fairer political representation, decentralisation and an end to all forms of discrimination in the laws and constitution. They also demand legal reform to end mass arrests and lengthy pre-trial detentions of non-violent activists on terrorism charges.

Control of Diyarbakır is contested on many levels. The state wants to stay in charge, channelling its influence through the Ankara-appointed governor and control over budget, policing, education, health and infrastructure development. The municipality, in the hands of legal pro-PKK parties since 1999, most recently the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), is gathering more power against considerable obstacles. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) that rules nationally has ushered in a more progressive approach to police, but this has not ended confrontations and defused local hostility. Turkey as a whole, and Kurdish-speaking cities like Diyarbakır in particular, need a coherent, informed debate on decentralisation and a strategy to implement it.

The current government has done more than any previous one to permit Kurdish language use in Diyarbakır and elsewhere, but most Kurds want nothing less than a com­mit­ment to education in their mother language. The government’s initiative on optional Kurdish lessons should be fully supported as a stepping-stone in a structured plan to achieve declaration of that goal as a right.

Once Turkey’s third best off economic centre, Diyarbakır and its surrounding province have fallen to 63rd place at last measurement. Investment has long been low due to violence, flawed government policies and PKK sabotage, kidnappings, terrorist attacks and extortion. But residents show their faith in the city’s future through their investment, particularly in marble quarries and the booming real estate sector. Diyarbakır’s location at a regional historic crossroads still makes it an important hub for elements of the service sector, such as courier businesses and hospitals. Thousand-year-old monuments could make it a tourist magnet.

Fighting between the security forces and the PKK, mostly in the south east, is rising. While Diyarbakır has mostly been spared the worst of the recent violence, the civilian population and local politics are nonetheless increasingly stressed and polarised by events. The AKP is losing its appeal, and the BDP, while uncontested as the strongest political force in the city, has yet to prove its political maturity and ability to be more than a front for an increasingly violent PKK. The moderately Islamic Gülen movement is trying to offer another way, and as a negotiated settlement seems less likely, Kurdish Islamic groups are boosting their already substantial influence.

Yet, voices from Diyarbakır insist that common ground exists, as it does throughout the rest of Turkey. Crisis Group, in two previous reports in 2011 and 2012, recommended that the government announce a clear strategy to resolve the conflict, focusing in the first instance on justice and equal rights for Kurds. It suggested that the government work pro-actively with Kurdish representatives on four lines of reform: mother-language rights for Turkey’s Kurds; reducing the threshold for election to the national parliament to 5 per cent from 10 per cent; a new decentralisation strategy; and stripping all discrimination from the constitution and laws. Once these steps have been taken, it could then move to detailed talks on disarmament and demobilisation with the PKK. In short, both sides need to exercise true leadership, by eschewing violence, committing to dialogue and achieving the Kurds’ legitimate aspirations through Turkey’s existing legal structures, especially in the parliamentary commission working on a new constitution.

This companion report additionally offers recommendations specifically for urgent action by the government and legal leadership of the Kurdish movement in Diyarbakır to strengthen Kurds’ trust in the state by working to resolve pressing local problems and to ensure the long-term development of the city and province.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To the Turkish Government and Diyarbakır community leaders, including the Kurdish movement’s legal leadership:

To establish mutual trust between Turks and Kurds

1.  The Turkish government should pass and implement legal reforms to allow the use of mother languages in trials, shorten pre-trial detentions and ensure that Kurdish and other suspects are taken into custody in a humane manner. It should encourage local police to continue improving engagement with the Diyarbakır community and end use of excessive force, even in response to unauthorised public meetings and demonstrations.

2.  Community and Kurdish movement leaders should comply with procedures on public meetings and dem­on­stra­tions; renounce all PKK violence; and continue civil society efforts, such as the recently established “Dialogue and Contact Group”.

To guarantee use of mother languages in education and public life

3.  The Turkish government should complete the implementation of optional Kurdish classes in the 2012-2013 academic year transparently; define a timeline for full education in mother languages wherever there is sufficient demand; continue to prepare teachers and curriculums for this transition; allow local elected officials to change relevant laws and regulations so as to restore or give Kurdish names to local places; and relax the ban on the use of Kurdish in public services.

4.  Community and Kurdish movement leaders should acknowledge the government’s positive steps in these areas, and stop boycotts of optional Kurdish classes.

To ensure a fair debate and eventual consensus on decentralisation

5.  The Turkish government should lead a debate in Diyarbakır, as well as nationwide, about municipal governance and decentralisation.

6.  Local government leaders should cooperate and meet with central government representatives who visit the province and clearly express their commitment to achieving Kurds’ democratic demands legally.

To assist Diyarbakır’s economic, social and cultural development

7.  The Turkish government should ensure that Diyarbakır receives a fair share of public funds, particularly for education, international airport facilities, railway connections and industrial zones, equivalent to that of comparable cities elsewhere in Turkey; and pro-actively promote domestic tourism to this and other historic cities in the south east.

8.  Community leaders should reach out to Turkish mainstream opinion to help overcome prejudices about the Kurdish-speaking south east through the exchange of business delegations, school trips and professional conferences.

Istanbul/Diyarbakır/Brussels, 30 November 2012

Amnesty International: Hunger strikers denied medical care

UA: 329/12 Index: EUR 44/022/2012 Turkey Date: 9 November 2012

URGENT ACTION

HUNGER STRIKERS DENIED MEDICAL CARE

Hundreds are on hunger strike (some of them since 12 September) in prisons across Turkey. Lawyers told Amnesty International that prison authorities have denied many hunger strikers access to medical care, further threatening their health.

On 12 September, around 60 prisoners began a hunger strike in seven prisons across Turkey. The hunger strikes were initiated as a protest against the authorities’ longstanding refusal to allow Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan to meet with his lawyers and to demand the provision of education in the Kurdish language. Since September, the number of hunger strikes has grown. According to the Ministry of Justice, 682 prisoners in 67 prisons had joined the hunger strike by 2 November.

Lawyers representing the hunger strikers told Amnesty International that prison doctors are routinely refusing to conduct medical examinations of the hunger strikers, including checking the prisoners’ blood pressure. Lawyers also said that in some cases, hunger strikers are being denied access to vital vitamins taken to the prison by the lawyers. One prisoner on hunger strike in Sincan F-type prison was allegedly made to travel 36 hours for a court hearing, despite severe mobility problems and a doctor’s report advising against the travel.

There are further concerns regarding reports that prisoners on hunger strike in Silivri and Şakran prisons have been placed in solitary confinement, and guards at Tekirdağ prison were ill-treating prisoners as a result of their participation in the hunger strike protests.

Please write immediately in Turkish or your own language:

  • Reminding the authorities that hunger strikers are engaging in a peaceful form of protest and the Turkish authorities have an obligation to respect their right to freedom of expression, including their right to protest;  Calling on the authorities to ensure that the hunger strikers have adequate access to qualified medical professionals and any medical assessment, advice and any treatment that they will accept voluntarily based on this assessment, and to ensure that there is no unjustifiable restriction on hunger striking prisoners from receiving vitamins provided by their lawyers or family members;
  • Calling on the authorities to ensure that no punitive measures are taken against prisoners on hunger strike and the absolute prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment is upheld; and to institute a prompt, thorough, impartial and effective investigations into allegations that prisoners in Silivri, Şakran and Tekirdağ prison were ill- treated or otherwise punished for their participation in the hunger strikes.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 21 DECEMBER 2012 TO:

Ministry of Justice Sadullah Ergin Adalet Bakanı Adalet Bakanlığı 06659 Ankara, Turkey Fax: +90 312 417 71 13 (keep trying) Email: sadullahergin@adalet.gov.tr Salutation: Dear Minister

Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights Ayhan Sefer Üstün Commission Chairperson

TBMM İnsan Hakları İnceleme Komisyonu Bakanlıklar, 06543 Ankara, Turkey Fax: +90 312 420 53 94

Email: insanhaklari@tbmm.gov.tr

Salutation: Dear Mr Üstün

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country.

Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.

URGENT ACTION

HUNGER STRIKERS DENIED MEDICAL CARE

>>>ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

In Turkey, prison hunger strikes have been repeatedly used as a method of protest. On 20 October 2000, more than 1,200 prisoners went on hunger strike; this was in protest at plans to move them to new prisons where they were to be housed in small cells, rather than dormitories that hold up to 60 prisoners. Prisoners were concerned that they would be at greater risk of assault or torture. When raids began on 19 December, some 200 were still on hunger strike and many of them were reportedly close to death. Turkish authorities intervened by force to end the hunger strikes with the operation they termed “return to life”. This operation led to the deaths of 30 prisoners and two soldiers during raids into 20 prisons. The Justice Minister reportedly stated that “at least 16 prisoners died, most of whom set themselves on fire”. He did not say how the other prisoners had died.

Hunger strikes continued in the following two years, claiming the lives of dozens of people – some of whom were not prisoners.

Amnesty International does not support hunger strikes, nor does it try to persuade hunger strikers to end such a protest. The organization opposes any punishment of hunger strikers and attempts to coerce them to end their hunger strike. Such measures violate their right to freedom of expression, and may also amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The authorities have an obligation to ensure prisoners’ right to life and health and must ensure that hunger strikers, like other prisoners, have adequate access to qualified health professionals and any medical assessment, advice and any treatment that they will accept voluntarily based on this assessment.

Name: Almost 700 prisoners on hunger strike in Turkey Gender m/f: both

UA: 329/12 Index: EUR 44/022/2012 Issue Date: 9 November 2012

Solidarity with Hunger Strikers: Urgent Call from BDP

03/11/2012

URGENT CALL TO INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC OPINION FOR SOLIDARITY WITH HUNGER STRIKERS

Today, it has been 53 days since Kurdish political prisoners in the Turkish prisons began indefinite hunger strikes on September 12, 2012. At this moment, health status of prisoners on hunger strike is severely impaired and came to a very critical stage. This announcement is prepared in order to inform international public opinion that we are extremely concerned that loss of life may be imminent and ask your solidarity to prevent it.

On September 12, 2012; 64 Kurdish political prisoners have started an indefinite and irreversible hunger strike in 7 Prisons in Turkey.

On 22 September 2012, ten days later 79 more prisoners joined the hunger strike. With new participants these numbers have been continuously increasing. According to joint research of Human Rights Association, Progressive Lawyers Association and Law & Human Rights Commission of Peace and Democracy Party, at least 654 Kurdish political prisoners and convicts in prisons are on an indefinite and irreversible hunger strike in 66 prisons. Imprisoned members of parliament, Mr. Faysal Sarıyıldız, Ms. Gülser Yıldırım and Ms. Selma Irmak and Mayor of Derik, Ms. Çağlar Demirel are also participating to the indefinite hunger strike.

Specifically, the health status of 154 political prisoners that began the hunger strike with the first two groups is severely impaired and their life is under extreme danger and at great vital risk.

In a press release to the public, political prisoners on a hunger strike have made two specific demands and stated that they will not reverse their decision unless their demands are meet. These demands are:

1- The right to education and legal defense in mother tongue.

2- Ending the isolation of Mr. Abdullah Öcalan in Imrali prison in order to creating the conditions for dialogue and negotiation.

According to the above mentioned demands, reason of the hunger strike is not for individual interest or awful conditions of the prisons in Turkey. Political prisoners believe that their existence in prisons is directly related with the conflicts between the Turkish Government and Kurdish political movement. Therefore, the prisoners and arrested politicians are considering themselves as “prisoner of war” or POW. The existing judicial system, the anti-terror law that amended in 2006 and security oriented governing are created a total war against Kurds’ fundamental rights. Freedom of speech, right to demonstration and demanding collective rights of the people perceived as “terrorist activity” by the prosecutors and the government as well. The existing Anti-terror law allows prosecutors to arrest everyone without concrete evidence. Therefore, more than 8000 Kurdish politicians, journalists, advocates, trade unionists and NGO members have been in prisons for many years without any verdict by judges. Many of the participants of the hunger strike are victims of the existing law system. Their legal defenses in mother tongue are not provided due to the monist mentality. This situation is one of the reasons of the hunger strike.

Unfortunately, AKP Government has not any sensitivity or attention to the ongoing hunger strike. Prime Minister Erdoğan clearly lied when he was in Germany. According to Erdoğan, only one prisoner is continuing to the hunger strike. At the same time Minister of Justice announced that 683 prisoners and arrested people are in hunger strike. It is very tragic that, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice are not from different countries. But their speeches are totally different. Unfortunately, PM Erdoğan is not focusing on solving the issue. The main approach of the government is disinforming the hunger strike.

On the other hand, while the people who protest the government because of its insensitivity, AKP Government and its police forces are continuing arrest BDP members and protestors. Yesterday, 97 students were taken custody during the protests in order to prevent democratic opposition. Today, 20 people from BDP, press and NGOs are take in custody by the police raids in Mersin. We believe that, the reason of the ongoing arrests is to prevent solidarity with the hunger strikers.

Therefore, we as BDP, call government to stop accusing BDP or hunger strikers. Government must respect to the Kurdish prisoners demands. The demands are fundamental rights of humanity. Therefore, PM Erdoğan must end this meaningless obstinacy. In case of insist to this negative manner, AKP Government will be main responsible of the closing tragedy.

No time to wait! Everyone from the earth should react to the AKP Government’s totalitarian approach on Kurdish People and their fundamental rights. No state or power can prevent a human’s freedom of speech or defense in mother tongue in democratic countries. No one should live without collective identity in their home country.

BDP urgently calls to government, international public opinion and institutions to prevent losing lives in prisons.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMISSION OF PEACE AND DEMOCRACY PARTY

 

ANNEX 1:

Events on Hunger Strikes

1. Prisoners who are on indefinite hunger strike since September 12 in Siirt E Type Closed Prison have learned aggravate health problems. İHD (HRA) lawyers Roja Arslan and Yavuz Çelepkolu who met with the prisoners on hunger strike in prison, said hunger-striking prisoners does not accept liquid.

2. Rıza Turan who is in Siirt E Type Prison has loss of sight and also director of prison didn’t deliver blanket which is given to him by his family.

3. Eleven women prisoners who are started the hunger strike in Diyarbakır E Type Prison some findings on their health status; weakness, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to sound and noise, irregular blood pressure, excessive weight loss and nose bleeds

4. Four prisoners who are in Şakran T type Prison No 4 were single cells and a place to sleep, clothes, pen and paper to tell their status are not given.

5. Although Berivan Elter who is in hunger strike has health report, a new report was taken and she pick up from Ankara to Diyarbakır ( round trip 36 hours)

6. B1 Vitamin is not given any prisoners in Adana F type Prison

Press brief: Kurdish hunger strike

Please urge all concerned to contact all appropriate media outlets and use all their contacts to spread the below brief in order to draw international and local media attention to the ongoing human tragedy with the prisoners on hunger strike in Turkey:

30.10.2012

Dear Editor,

I am writing to inform you about an international petition campaign launched in with regards to the hunger strike protest that has been carried out by Kurdish political prisoners in Turkey since September 12, 2012. The petition emphasizes the imminence of a human tragedy, given that the strike is as of today on its 49th day, and calls on the Turkish state to urgently address the prisoners’ demands. A brief bulletin about the contents and participants of the petition is below.

Thank you for your consideration.

____________

An international group of social scientists with research interests in the Kurdish issue launched a petition campaign calling on the Turkish government to address the demands of the Kurdish political prisoners whose hunger strike protests have entered a critical phase.

Over 700 Kurdish prisoners are on the 49th day of a hunger strike as of October 30, 2012, for the right to defense in their mother tongue and the ending of solitary confinement of Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK’s imprisoned leader. Medical experts confirm that the 40th day is a threshold in hunger strikes where physical and mental dysfunctions commence, as well as cases of death begin to occur.

Petitioners declare their full support to the Kurdish political prisoners’ demands, which, they believe, are among fundamental human rights.  The petition emphasizes that the international community’s opinion on Turkey will be strongly shaped by the way the present hunger strikes are handled and reminds the addressees, including the President, Prime Minister and Justice Minister of Turkey, that they will be personally responsible should this protest end in a human tragedy. Recalling the devastating cost of the prison operations of the year 2000, the petitioners warn the Turkish government  that any attempt at forceful intervention would cause irreparable harm and destroy the already dim democratic ground for a peaceful settlement of the Kurdish issue.

The petition has received great interest and support from academic circles around the world, reaching over one thousand signatures on its first day. Some internationally renowned social scientists sent support messages to the campaign. Professor Michael Taussig of Columbia University, an international authority in anthropology, signed the petition with the following note: ‘To the Turkish State: please attend immediately to the welfare of these courageous prisoners’. The preeminent feminist theorist Professor Judith Butler of University of California, Berkeley, wrote: “Turkish government must enter into serious dialogue with these prisoners, who now risk their lives to expose the injustice under which they live.” And Noam Chomsky stated: “Elementary humanity requires that the just and desperate plea of these prisoners for dialogue should be answered quickly and appropriately, without delay.”

The campaign initiators state that they were inspired by Turkey’s great novelist Yasar Kemal’s recent statement on hunger strikes: ‘Watching death is ill-suited to humanity’. The petition can be reached online at the link below:

http://www.change.org/petitions/hunger-strikers-in-turkish-prisons-engage-in-constructive-dialogue-with-prisoners#

The list of Initiators

Can Ağar, Translator, İstanbul, Turkey
Ahmet Hamdi Akkaya, Ghent University, Belgium
Emek Alici, University of London, UK
Ahmet Alış, Bogaziçi University, Turkey
Seda Altug, Bogazici University, Turkey
Shiler Amini, University of Exeter, UK
Mizgin Müjde Arslan, Bahçeşehir University, Turkey
Dr Mehmet Asutay, Durham University, UK
Ebru Avci, Istanbul Technical University, Turkey
Dr. Bilgin Ayata, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
U. Rezan Azizoğlu, Ankara University, Turkey
Hanifi Barış, University of Aberdeen, UK
Luqman Barwari, president, Kurdish National Congress-North America (KNC-NA)
Oyman Basaran, The University of Massachusetts, USA
Dr. Bahar Başer, University of Warwick, UK
Dr. Derya Bayır, University of London , UK
Fırat Bozçalı, Stanford University, USA
Dr. Katharina Brizić, Linguist, Austria
Adnan Çelik, EHESS, Paris, France
Umit Cetin, University of Essex, UK
Cuma Cicek, Paris Institute of Political Studies, France
Ozgur Cicek, Binghamton University, NY, USA
Ayca Ciftci, University of London, UK
Deniz Cifci, Fatih University, Istanbul, Turkey
Dr Barzoo Eliassi, Lund University, Sweden
Secil Dagtas, University of Toronto, Canada
Engin Emre Değer, Istanbul Şehir University, Turkey
Esin Düzel, UCSD, USA
Burcu Ege, Independent Researcher, Turkey
Delal Aydin Elhuseyni, Binghamton University, NY, USA
Muhammed Mesud Fırat, Bilgi University. Turkey
Bahar Şahin Fırat, Boğaziçi University, Turkey
Özlem Galip, University of Exeter, UK
Başak Gemici, Koç University, Istanbul, Turkey
Frangis Ghaderi, University of Exeter, UK
Onur Gunay, Princeton University, USA
Azat Z. Gundogan, Binghamton University, NY, USA
Saed Kakei, Nova Southeastern University, USA
Fethi Karakecili, York University, Canada
Maryam Kashani, The University of Texas at Austin, USA
Dr Janroj Keles , London Metropolitan University, UK
Yeşim Mutlu, METU, Turkey
Dr. Nilay Ozok-Gundogan, Denison University, USA
Dr. Cengiz Güneş, The Open University, UK
Serra Hakyemez, Johns Hopkins University, USA
Wendy Hamelink, Leiden University, Netherlands
Murat Issı, University of Panteion, Greece
Mithat Ishakoglu, University of Exeter, UK
Erkan Karaçay, University of Exeter, UK
Elif İnal, Koç University, Istanbul, Turkey
Dr. Iclal Ayşe Küçükkırca, Mardin Artuklu University, Turkey
Dr. Kamran Matin, Sussex University, UK
Caroline McKusick, University of California Davis, USA
Dilan Okçuoğlu, Queens University, Canada
Ergin Opengin, Paris 3, Paris, France
Omer Ozcan, The University of Texas at Austin, USA
Dr. Hisyar Ozsoy, University of Michigan-Flint, USA
Prof. Dr. H.Neşe Özgen, Ege University, Turkey
Erlend Paashe, Peace Research Institute, Oslo, Norway
Berivan Sarikaya, York University, UK
Dr. Besime Şen, Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, Turkey
Dr. Birgül Açıkyıldız-Şengül, Harvard University, USA
Ruken Sengul, The University of Texas at Austin, USA
Dr. Serdar Şengül, Harvard University, USA
Dr. Prakash Shah, University of London, UK
Christian Sinclair, University of Arizona, USA
Prof. Dr. Nükhet Sirman, Boğaziçi University, Turkey
Ülker Sözen, Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts, Turkey
Marcin Starzewski, Sabanci University, Turkey
Kelly Stuart, Columbia University, USA
Dr. Engin Sustam, EHESS, Paris, france
Dr. Raja Swamy, The University of Arkansas, USA
Mohammedali Yaseen Taha, University of Lisbon, Portugal
Dr. Latif Tas, Humbolt University, Berlin, Germany
Salima Tasdemir, University of Exeter, UK
Omer Tekdemir, Durham University, UK
Dr. Sebahattin Topçuoğlu, Hamburg, Germany
Dr. Nazan Üstündağ, Bogazici University, Turkey
Dr. Kamala Visweswaran, The University of Texas At Austin, USA
Muge Yamanyilmaz, Bilgi University, Turkey
Serkan Yaralı, EHESS, Paris, France
Güllistan Yarkın, Binghamton University, USA
Prof. Dr. Mesut Yeğen, Istanbul Şehir University, Turkey
İsmail Hakkı Yiğit, Fatih University, Turkey
Dilan Yildirim, Harvard University, USA
Emrah Yıldız, Harvard University, USA
Cagri Yoltar, Duke University, USA
Dr. Zafer Yörük, Izmir University of Economics, Turkey
Ayse Seda Yuksel, Central European University, Hungary
Dr Welat Zeydanlioglu, Kurdish Studies Network, Sweden
Max Zirngast, University of Vienna, Austria

An Hour with Father Paolo

This article was originally published in The Kurdish Review and is reprinted here at the request of the author. Father Paolo is a well-known advocate of federalism in Syria, especially for Kurds.

By Sirwan Kajjo

Father Paolo. Photo credit: George Newcomb

Reverend Paolo Dall’Oglio, head of the Deir Mar Musa monastery in Syria, was expelled from the country by the regime. He was accused of supporting the revolution and plotting to destabilize the sovereignty of Syria.

Father Paolo is currently visiting the United States in an attempt to lobby for the people of Syria who strive for freedom in Democracy. He has been working tirelessly while using all of his connections in America to persuade decision-makers to step up their approach regarding the Syrian crisis.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted him on July 23, 2012. I was lucky to be one of the very few people who were invited to attend the little event. He entered the room after everybody was already seated and waiting for him. His features were those of someone who’d been the hardships throughout his life. When he was offered a drink, he refused to have it, saying it was Ramadan. He never eats or drinks in public during the holy month of Muslims.

Father Paolo was an imperative figure in promoting religious tolerance in Syria. Throughout his many years there, he worked intensely on the idea of coexistence in the heterogonous nation and many of his closest friends were from different religious and ethnic backgrounds.

At the Carnegie event, the originally-Italian priest gave a lecture on the stamina of the Syrian people against its brutal regime. He said when people first took to the streets; the purpose was to demand their freedom and dignity back. After several months of perpetual atrocities by the regime, according to him, protestors were obliged to take another path of their struggle and to shift their peaceful efforts to bring Syrian to Democracy. Arming the revolution was an option that the people didn’t want to choose. “The conflict in Syria has a sectarian dimension now whose end is uncertain”, says Father Paolo.

I asked if he thinks a potential Kurdish-Arab confrontation would erupt. He said Syria has already been slipped into a civil war. According to him, anything is likely to happen in a country where the number of causalities is increasingly at ridiculously high rates around the clock. He also blamed the Arab opposition for not embracing the Kurds.

One of the aspects that make this man so unique is his endless support for a federal Kurdish region in Syria. He also believes that the West should realize that a federal state in Syria is the only way to protect the country’s integrity. What also surprised me about this man was his aspiration for four Kurdish federations in the greater Middle East. He thinks this soon will be a reality.

 

Qubad Talabani: It’s Time to Go Back to Kurdistan

Qubad Talabani: It’s Time to Go Back to Kurdistan
By Sîrwan Kajjo
(originally published in the June 2012 issue of
The Kurdish Review, a monthly Kurdish newspaper from Washington, DC. Reprinted here by request of author)

US Representative of Kurdistan Regional Government Qubad Talabani is getting ready to leave his office this year. After 12 years of representing Kurds in several positions, Talabani is expected to be working in the Prime Minister office once he’s back in Erbil. To shed light on this issue and other relevant matters, The Kurdish Review met with Mr. Talabani for this exclusive interview.

Sîrwan Kajjo (L) interviews Qubad Talabani (R)

Kurdish Review: Let’s begin with the continuous dispute between KRG and central government, how do you see the US stance on this crisis?

Qubad Talabani: There is obviously a political dispute within the federal government, and this dispute is a natural dispute between legitimate entities in the country. The United States is no longer in charge of Iraq. Iraq is a sovereign country, so these disputes have to be managed domestically, managed by the governments themselves.  It’s not the United States’ role to have a stance. It’s not for the US to take one side over the other. I think the US is trying to normalize its relation with Iraq. I think what the US wants out of all of this is an outcome that will lead to stability.

KR: There were Kurdish delegations from Turkey, Syria and Iran in Washington DC over the last few weeks to meet with US officials. Did you get to meet and/or Help them?

Qubad: We were pleased to meet all of our delegations in town. The details of the Eastern Kurdistan delegation was less clear to me.  But I was certainly aware and closely following BDP/DTK delegation and Kurdish National Council in Syria’s delegation. We received them here in the office and gave them our advice of the kind of things that people here in Washington are interested in. I’m very happy to see these kinds of delegations coming from other parts on Kurdistan to meet with US government officials, meet with think thanks and educate them on other aspects of Kurdistan that they might not be familiar with. There’s a reasonable understanding in Washington regarding the issues of Iraqi Kurdistan and its complications. But I don’t think the policy community here is fully aware of Kurdish issues of Eastern, Northern and Western Kurdistan. So I believe these meetings are very important.

KR: Did you get any feedback from Washington policy-makers regarding those delegations and their meetings?

Qubad: Yes the feedback, official and nonofficial, that I’ve received was positive. The meetings were timely and people learned a lot from the delegations’ visit in Washington. For example, there is some much analysis on Syria. Very smart people in Washington and London are analyzing the situation as they read, but what makes all that even more unique is actually hearing from people from that region. Having the Kurdish delegation from Syria helped policy makers here to form a clearer vision on the issue. It was a good source of information for Washington.

KR: Rumors being spread in the Kurdish community that New-elect Kurdistan PM Nechirvan Barzani wants you in Kurdistan to hold the post of minister of oil and natural resources in KRG. Is that true?

Qubad: (Laughing)…. That is so far away from the truth. It’s true I’m leaving Washington after serving Kurdistan interests for 12 years in various posts as PUK representative, KRG – Sulaimaniyah Adminstration representative and finally the unified KRG representative. Now my time is running out here. I’m going back to Kurdistan to work for the Prime Minister in his office.

KR: When are you going back?

Qubad: This summer.

KR: Yes, but when precisely?

Qubad: This summer.

KR: Fine, who is going to take over your position?

Qubad: It’s not clear yet.

KR: Do you think KRG representative to UK, Bayan Sami Abdulrahman will succeed you?

Qubad: I have not heard anything formally about that. I think whoever takes over the job, will do it fantastically. Certainly Bayan Xan is more than capable of handling this job. In fact, she’s doing it already in England. I know she’s a great candidate and a great colleague of mine. I have a lot of respect for her. But for everybody’s sake, I think we should wait to see who the nominee is.

KR: During your period of service, how was your relationship with the Iraqi embassy in Washington?

Qubad: I’ve always had a good relationship with the Iraqi embassy. Obviously our work is different. There was some sensitivity in the past, mainly from embassy side. I can’t represent Basra here. I can’t represent Baghdad. My job here is to represent Kurdistan. In fact, we’d like to think that we’re filling a void on behalf of the embassy. So we live together, we work together but we don’t work for each other.

KR: But the embassy has complained about the expansion of your work here! Why is that?

Qubad: Up until recently, we only had six staffers, a couple of part-timers and contactors. We can’t compare our expansion and budget with the embassy. For instance, the embassy has a commercial attaché with a staff, a military attaché with its own staff and several other offices. So there really shouldn’t be any complaints.

KR: By the way, how many people work for your office now?

Qubad: Well so far, we have eight full time positions. We have a Director of Public Affairs, Director of Congressional and Academic Affairs, Director of Cultural and Community Affairs, Director of Political and Diplomatic Affairs, Director for Outreach . There also a couple of administrative positions. Moreover, we always have internships for Kurds and non-Kurds. So it’s quite a full team.

KR: What has Qubad Talabani done in the past 12 years representing the Kurds in the US?

Qubad: Well, it’s a good question. But it’s not for Qubad Talabani to say what I’ve done. With the help of my staff, we’ve been able to turn this office from a one-person office into an institution. I think that’s probably the accomplishment I’m most proud of. Twenty years ago, this office was run from somebody’s basement in Fairfax. Now it’s a true representation. We have this beautiful building that is owned by our government in a prominent location of the city. I would say it’s no less that an embassy in Washington. Of course, forming the American-Kurdish Congressional Caucus for the first time in the history of US Congress, for example, was a testimony of the good work this office’s been doing. Many other groups have been established here in order to promote Kurdish interests in the US.

KR: Many think that you played an imperative role in unifying the “divided” Kurdish community in America, in Washington area specifically. How could you get all these people together?

Qubad: I thank whoever says that. Indeed when I first came here, the community was really divided. Newroz parties were held separately. There was one for PUK, one for KDP, one for KDP-I. Even simple things like demonstrations were done separately. There was still a left over effect of the regrettable conflict in Kurdistan within the community here. But thankfully, that dynamic has changed and things are much better now. There’s one Newroz and everyone goes to it. Whether you’re Northern, Eastern, Southern or Westerner, it doesn’t matter. It was one of my goals when I first came here. I thought was crazy. Newroz is Newroz, it’s not PUK’s or KDP’s. It even went beyond that. Once we had meeting for several groups. Our eastern brothers got angry and left the meeting. And do you know what the challenge was? It was a problem with portraits of political leaders (laughing)… It was about whose picture to hang up at the event!! One party, I won’t mention names, wanted two pictures, one said just one picture is enough. Then things got so complicated… just over pictures. Of course, the experiment of having each person bring one picture became so embarrassing. So everyone eventually came to the understanding that its time to move on. Thankfully , the year after, which was 2005, we had the first new year without pictures. We just had the Kurdish flag.  The community has also been more active in getting involved in policy making in the US. For example, the community was very helpful when we passed a resolution to open the US Consulate in Erbil

KR: What advice would you give to the next KRG representative in Washington?

Qubad: Washington is a unique animal. It’s not like other capitals in the world. Anyone who comes here has to be aware of this. My advice would be for them to not become part of the political divisions here. They should work with all parties, think thanks and other institutions. Our job here is not to take sides.

The other thing that I would like the next representative to work on is our getting closer to the community here. The Kurdish community can strengthen our mission here. One aspect of my years here that I can be somewhat self critical at is my work with the community. While we did engage the youth with some success, I think I could’ve done better in terms of broader community outreach and better engaging the community in our efforts. We have some exceptionally talented and patriotic Kurds here in the US, and they can be a real asset to Kurdistan.

Will botched airstrike lead to regional policy changes?

Will botched airstrike lead to regional policy changes?
by Christian Sinclair

In late December 2011 Turkish military forces bombed a group of Kurdish civilians along the Iraq-Turkey border, killing 34 of the 38 in the group. Eighteen of the 34 who died in the attack were teenagers. The group came from the villages of Gülyazı (Bujeh) and Ortasu (Roboski) in the Uludere district of Sirnak and the attack has now been dubbed the “Roboski massacre” or the “Uludere massacre.” Ankara said it mistook the group for PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) fighters.

Suddenly, five months after the airstrike against these Kurdish civilians, there is intense media coverage of the Roboski massacre. Previously, there had been precious little coverage outside of Kurdish media circles of what is the largest civilian death toll in Turkey’s decades old campaign against the PKK. So why now? Why the coverage?

click for larger image

The 38-person caravan was en route back to Turkey after a trip across the border for fuel, cigarettes, sugar, and other items typically smuggled over the desolate, rugged mountain terrain in this region. As the group came within 50 meters of the border, the sky lit up with bombs dropped from F-16s in a raid lasting 40 minutes. When it was over, 34 charred bodies were left on the snowy mountain trails. The tragic loss of life sparked protests across Turkey but prompted only half-hearted, inconclusive investigations. Amnesty International says it has “doubts about whether [the investigation] is thorough and impartial and will be effective in identifying what happened and those responsible.” Even with international agencies investigating and protests across Europe, there was still very little coverage of the attack in the mainstream Western press.

Last Wednesday, however, the Wall Street Journal injected new life into the story by reporting that a U.S. drone was involved in passing along the intel to the Turkish military about suspicious activity along its border that night in December. Now many Turkish and Western media outlets are covering the story, albeit with competing narratives about who saw what first. It seems that the media interest now comes from the drones, Washington-Ankara relations, and who saw the caravan first, rather than the fact that Turkey, a member of NATO, killed almost three dozen of its own citizens in a questionable air raid.

In Ankara there is what is called a Combined Intelligence Fusion Cell where U.S. and Turkish personnel sit side by side to watch drone feeds in real time. That night, according to U.S. military officials, a predator “was on an eight-hour patrol along the Iraqi-Turkish border when its American controllers spotted the convoy walking toward the Turkish border.” That information was then passed along to the Turkish military, who then directed the Americans to move the drone out of the area.

But Turkey is insisting that there was no U.S. intelligence provided or that the action taken was based on Turkish intelligence. Turkish President Abdullah Gül said before flying to the U.S. for the NATO Summit in Chicago, that  “[i]f the [Turkish] government, concerned authorities, the General Staff make a statement, we all should trust that.” He added that he does not “think it is not right to make such useless polemics.” Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan said the Uludere operation was “action from footage provided by our aircraft not by U.S. predators” and that particular region “was an area of terrorism.” It seems then with this blanket pronouncement that since Ankara had deemed it “an area of terrorism” then it should not be held responsible for what they have called an “administrative accident.”

This is troubling and the U.S. and other NATO partners need to understand the lens through which Turkey views any shared intelligence. A former senior U.S. military official told WSJ he and fellow officers were sometimes troubled by Turkish standards for selecting targets in their long-running battle with the PKK.

There are other, perhaps more troubling, theories about the WSJ report. In a very “creative” spin on the report, Turkish PM Erdoğan said late last week that he thought it “may be part of a project to undermine the Barack Obama administration as the U.S. presidential election approaches” and his take on this report is that it “is meant to make life difficult for the current [U.S.] government.”

The political opposition in Turkey has been quick to criticize Erdoğan and his party. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, head of the opposition CHP (Republican People’s Party), says he has “difficulty understanding this government’s mentality. This government failed in the Uludere case. It murdered 34 citizens.” Deputy CHP Chair, Sezgin Tanrikulu, says that the “reason why the government is keeping quiet now is that it wants to avoid political responsibility.”

Truck carrying bodies of Roboski massacre victims

Mayor Fehmi Yaman in Uludere charged that the attack was part of a series of government efforts to intimidate the local population and called it deliberate. “The orders for this attack came from the very top level and they will do everything to protect themselves,” said Yaman. Families of the victims said that the “Turkish army knew very well that the villagers, who are poor and uneducated, have used the route to smuggle for generations” and they could not have mistaken them for PKK militants.

Etyen Mahçupyan, columnist for Today’s Zaman, wrote in January that soldiers knew the caravan was coming, stopped them to gather them all in one spot, and then the soldiers “lit a flare to illuminate the region and allow warplanes to savagely shell the region and tear the smugglers’ bodies to pieces.” In fact, says Mahçupyan, it is “very hard to justify the argument that this incident was really an accident; there are a whole host of signs that suggest the massacre was deliberate.”

The questions surrounding this attack on innocent civilians should be raising alarm bells in Washington and elsewhere. U.S.-Turkish military cooperation is in need of review to better control how Ankara uses the information is receives from its American counterparts. There should also be a review of military aid to Ankara and strict controls on its use. Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said he wouldn’t “comment on intelligence-sharing with our Turkish allies” and instead remarked that the U.S. has “an enduring relationship with Turkey.” Perhaps someone at the NATO Summit in Chicago should take the opportunity to raise the issue with President Gül and lay out plans of how this relationship will endure.

In the end, we can only hope that the coverage continues, for whatever the reasons, and that the 34 Kurdish victims of this botched airstrike become a catalyst for policy change in the region. If that happens, their unfortunate deaths won’t be for naught.

(follow Christian Sinclair on Twitter: @sinclair_c)

I exist, said the Kurdish dragon

I exist, said the Kurdish dragon
Submitted by Naila Bozo

There was a dead town in Syria. The tombstone read ”Qamişlo” and on the grave lay red, yellow and green plastic roses. My knees are still hurting because I often kneeled down by the grave and begged the town to come back to life. Sometimes I threw myself on it to prevent the dazed youth from joining their parents in the soil. They merely looked at me pitiyingly and pushed me away. They had good reason to do so because what human is alive if he does not exist?

 A Fatal Census

Kime ez? asked Cegerxwîn (1903 -1984), a celebrated Kurdish poet. Who am I? Nobody, the Syrian government answered, you do not exist.

In August 1962 the Syrian government ordered a census in the province of Hasakeh which was carried out in October 1962. The province is situated in the northern parts of Syria and mostly inhabited by Kurds seeing as this area is the western part of Kurdistan that was divided between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria as a consequence of the Lausanne Treaty in 1923.

The census was fatal for the Kurds as it resulted in 120.000 Kurds loosing their Syrian citizenship and thus their rights. The number of stateless Kurds has according to Human Rights Watch since then only continued to grow to a number of 300.000 because children of the stateless, born and raised in Syria, have not been given citizenship either.

In April 2011 the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad said he would grant the Kurds citizenship. This did not cause much joy for two reasons. First, only registered Kurds would be given official identity papers while non-registered would remain stateless. Second, it was a poor way to keep the Kurds, who consitute 10 -15 % of the Syrian population, from joining the anti-regime protests that had begun only weeks earlier.

You Deserved To Be Gassed!

They say the uprising started in Damascus, March 2011. No, it started in Qamişlo, March 2004. A report from KurdWatch that gathers information about violation of human rights against Kurds within the Syrian borders closely describes what happened on March 12, 2004.

A football match was to be played at the stadium in Qamişlo. The team al-Futuwah was an Arabic team from Deir ez Zor and the other team, al-Jihad, was from Qamişlo. According to the Danish Refugee Council quoted in the report, an eyewitness said that the supporters of al-Futuwah had not been checked by security before entering the stadium and that they brought weapon in the form of knives, sticks and stones with them.

A journalist sitting in the press box observed that the supporters of al-Futuwah prior to the game had kept shouting: “Fallujah, Fallujah!” after which they started attacking the other team’s supporters with the sticks and stones they had brought with them. According to the report, “Fallujah” was a way for the supporters of al-Futuwah to show their support to Saddam Hussein, one of the worst oppressors in the history of Kurds, who in 1988 ordered the gassing of the Kurdish town Halabja which killed more than 5.000 people and injured more than 10.000.

While the attack took place, three young men came to the press box and asked another journalist, who was to comment on the match on radio, if he would announce that three children had been killed during the attack. The news spread and people from the nearest towns came to the stadium in such large numbers that the journalist described the stadium as being besieged. But the death of the three children soon proved wrong and people both inside and outside the stadium grew calm.

The peace did not last long as people soon began to throw with rocks and the police, military and intelligence service arrived to the stadium.

The report remarks that the security made a mistake by shooting into the air and thus frightening people; they should have instead tried dissolving the growing angry crowd with other measures. The first mentioned journalist said according to the report that supporters of al-Futuwah called out to the Kurds: “Saddam Hussein treated you they way you deserve to be treated!”

At this point the security people stepped in and split up the two groups. The Kurds were told to leave while al-Futuwah supporters remained inside the stadium.

According to eyewitnesses the security consisting of the police, military and intelligence shot and even killed Kurds who protested al- Futuwahs discriminating heckling by saying “Long live Kurdistan.” A witness said that security was being untruthful when it later claimed that the Kurds were shooting back: “Even the government have not stated this.”

9 people died on the 12th of March 2004. The Kurdish parties made an agreement with the government; if they were allowed to bury their murdered Kurds without the involvement of the police, they would make sure to keep the funeral procession under control. A journalist described the procession joined by tens of thousands of people as being quiet. Kurds waved the Kurdish flag, a few cried out in anger at Bashar al-Assad and others threw rocks at a statue of Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, a man so feared and infamous that before one did not even dare point their fingers at pictures of him. But other Kurds stopped them from throwing stones and the mourners continued walking towards the city hall.

At some point during the march one could hear shots from a military base nearby. Nothing happened and the procession continued. The journalist who had walked with the mourners left them to visit a lawyer whose office had a view over the square where the march had passed through. He was standing near the window when a car drove by. The car was open in the back and 7-8 men were sitting facing the square with their machine guns. They drove up to the few mourners at the back of the funeral procession and shot them. That day 23 people died.

The word about the killings spread and soon hell broke loose. People in the Kurdish towns set public buildings on fire while large demonstrations were held abroad in solidarity with the Kurds and support of the much anticipated uprising against al-Assad.

According to the report sources say that the Kurdish TV-channel ROJ TV, broadcasting from Denmark, was an important factor in mobilising the Kurds and gathering them at demonstrations in dimensions never seen before in West Kurdistan. The government’s crack down on the protests was brutal, and the Kurdish voice was once again brought to silence.

A Kurdish Dragon

Ketin xewê, ketin xewê, ketin xewa zilm û zorê, ketin xewa bindestiyê. They have been lulled into a deep sleep by the oppressor, Cegerxwîn said about the Kurds.

In the time after the uprising no one dared say a word about al-Assad. Many families had either lost a son to death or to the security service who usually came early in the morning and took the young Kurdish men away. My friend, who had only been out to buy bread on March 12, was brought home to his mom alive after one month in a jail in Damascus, tortured and with his teeth missing.

The grief of Kurds was deeper than the wells in their garden, it was a grief that paralysed the town and rest of West Kurdistan. Qamişlo was dead because its sons were dead. The Kurdish mothers tore their hair and ripped their clothes apart, the Kurdish fathers rocked back and forth with tears dripping down on the palms of their hands and the Kurdish sisters and brothers sat side by side, numb and with their heads falling first against their chest, then the wall.

The windows of Qamişlo are barred. The bars are shaped as flowers, fountains and sunrises but it does not change the fact that the town is a prison. The question is how can dead people tear off the window bars and demand freedom?

I was sitting in a livingroom in Qamişlo in January 2011, only weeks before the uprising in Syria began, and watching the people in Tunis overthrow Ben Ali. I once again asked the elder Kurds what this meant to them and what they would do. Nothing, they answered, never will we rise against al-Assad. I asked the young Kurds what they would do. They did not answer but I could see a fire in them I had never seen before.

Belê em in ejdehayê, ji xewa dili, siyar bûn niha, Cegerxwîn writes. The sleep of the Kurds will not last forever; the Kurdish people is a dragon that will awaken, ready to fight all injustice done to it.

The dragon is my generation, the dragon are the young men and women. Their sleep is not as deep as the sleep of their parents.

They are alive. They are Kurdistan.

One year anniversary of #TwitterKurds

It’s coming up later this month. The one year anniversary of #TwitterKurds!! Never heard of it? It’s a campaign on Twitter to raise awareness of Kurdish issues. It’s for anyone who wants to give voice to the Kurdish struggle for freedom of expression, freedom to be Kurdish, and freedom to speak Kurdish. It is a movement to raise awareness of human rights abuses perpetrated against the Kurdish peoples of the Middle East. It is a powerful social media tool to overcome media bias and spread the truth. #TwitterKurds has even been mentioned on Al Jazeera’s The Stream. It is a force to be reckoned with!

The power behind #TwitterKurds comes from the hundreds of dedicated global voices sending out 140-character messages hour after hour, day after day, gathering followers, users, believers; changing minds, changing hearts. When #TwitterKurds knocks on your social media door you might ask, ‘Who’s there?’ and #TwitterKurds responds, ‘The truth.’

In honour of #TwitterKurds‘ first anniversary, there will be a mass tweet campaign to raise global awareness of the issues in all parts of Kurdistan. Join us on 25th May from 10 to 10GMT.

Want to learn more? Go to Twitter. Follow #TwitterKurds for more information. You can also join the #TwitterKurds FB page!

Kurdish rights and constitutional exclusion in Syria

Kurdish rights and constitutional exclusion in Syria
by Christian Sinclair

In my first column, I’m going to recap a talk I gave last weekend in Istanbul at a conference called “On the Way to a New Constitution.”

What events of Syrian history have helped contribute to the brutal repression of that country’s Kurdish population? As the country’s largest ethnic minority, the Kurds in Syria make up approximately 10% of the country’s population and have long been denied the most basic expressions of identity in a ruthless push by the state to promote Arab nationalism and preserve its territorial integrity.  If we look at the evolution of Syria’s constitutions we may begin to understand the situation and how it has come to pass that Kurdish rights have been trampled on so thoroughly. Then, maybe, we can understand Kurdish calls for recognition under a new, post-Assad, post-Ba’ath constitution and ask what this long repressed group may need to feel like equal partners in a new Syria.

Since Syria’s separation from the Ottoman Empire, the country has experienced many constitutions, constitutional reforms, and constitutional setbacks. The nation’s 1920 constitution (its first) called the Syrian government an Arab government. This came on the heels of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the new nation became the “Arab Kingdom of Syria” under King Faisal, who announced that his would be an Arab government “based on justice and equality for all Arabs regardless of religion.” His government only lasted four months before the French took control.

In 1927 French Mandate Authorities set up a Constituent Assembly to begin drafting a new constitution. In the summer of 1928 a Kurdish delegation to the Constituent Assembly petitioned for political, cultural, and linguistic rights, including the use of Kurdish as a medium for teaching. However, worried about what was happening in neighboring countries and fearing nationalist aspirations, the French Mandate Authorities declined the Kurdish request.

Syria gained complete independence in 1946 and not too long after a major regional development would affect the long-term evolution of Syria’s many constitutions: the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. In Syria’s constitution of 1950 the addition of an article stating that Syria is “a part of the Arab nation” was added for the first time. The can be seen as a direct, defensive response to the formation of the state of Israel.

In an article from the Middle East Journal in 1951, Majid Khadduri discusses the question of Syrian unity as an additional factor that influenced Syria’s constitutional evolution. The French had parceled up “Greater Syria” doling out chunks of land to neighboring countries and establishing Lebanon as an independent entity. This created a Syrian version of Turkey’s “Sèvres Syndrome.”

Part of preamble to 1950 Constitution

Khadduri also said that “[s]tability in government presupposes the development of constitutional traditions. Frequent changes of regime…hardly afforded an opportunity of developing the tradition of responsibility necessary for stable government.” So if the tradition of responsibility wasn’t developing, what was? A fear of territorial disintegration, rising nationalism, worries about political stability, and regional geo-political shifts outside the government’s control. In 1953 another constitution was declared which added (in Article 3) that the Syrian Republic should pursue the goal of a “United Arab Nation.” But that constitution didn’t last long and the 1950 Constitution was reinstated in 1954.

From independence and through the early 1950s, a large-scale Kurdish political movement emerged, culminating in Syria’s first Kurdish political party in 1957. Some of the demands of the movement were: constitutional recognition, Kurdish participation in the administration of the state’s affairs, Kurdish as an official language, recognition of Newroz, and, some form of administrative autonomy. These demands, however, were only seen as risks. They were viewed through the developing lens of rising Arab nationalism and a fear of territorial disintegration. The Kurds were slowly inching up the list as the young nation’s most dangerous threat.

From 1958-1961 Syria was united with Egypt to form the United Arab Republic (UAR) and it was during this time that Arab nationalism flourished. The union provided the means and opportunity to implement assimilation policies to safeguard its existence. For example, Egyptian schoolteachers were sent to Kurdish regions in Syria to replace Kurds and to oversee the Arabic-only language policies. Syria withdrew from the UAR in 1961 and announced the formation of the Syrian “Arab” Republic. The union ended but the assimilation policies continued full force, including the now infamous census in 1962 that stripped 120,000 Kurds of their Syrian citizenship.

In April 2012 Rudaw interviewed the leader of the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, who said: “The Kurdish history in the pre-Ba’ath era was different from that of the Ba’ath era. Kurds are not different from other citizens in Syria. This feeling emerged under the Ba’ath, because the Ba’ath Party really pursued a discriminatory, racist, and marginalizing policy against the Kurds.” He says that Kurds were part of the political and social landscape and there were no problems prior to 1963. Perhaps there were fewer problems, but he is whitewashing a discriminatory history. When the Ba`ath party came to power in 1963 it simply continued the existing policies of denying Kurdish identity.

In 1964 a temporary constitution stated in Article One that: “Syria is part of the Arab homeland. And the people of the Syrian Arab region are a part of the Arab nation. They work and struggle to achieve the Arab nation’s comprehensive unity.” Article 22 offered rights and freedoms only “under the condition of not endangering the national security” or “Arab unity.” This was a continuation of the constitutional exclusion and criminalization of non-Arab identities.

Another temporary constitution was announced in 1969, which included an article stating: “The educational system aims at upbringing an Arab nationalist socialist generation.” This reflected policies already in place. The Kurdish language had already been banned in public and in education. In 1967 school geography texts removed any mention of the Kurds. Yet other non-Arab minorities (Armenians and Assyrians in particular) had their own schools and clubs where their languages were taught. Why? They were not seen as a threat to the Arab nation.

Syria’s 1973 (and current) constitution is meaningless as the country’s penal codes supplant constitutional principles. These penal codes are used to prosecute Kurdish activists, politicians, and students, as Kurds are afforded no constitutional protections. They are charged with: “attempting to sever part of the Syrian territory to annex it to a foreign state” (Article 267); “involvement in cells seeking to weaken nationalist consciousness and to stir up racial sectarian strife” (Article 285); and, “involvement in an unauthorized organizations” (Article 288).

What do Kurds in Syria want today? Well, what have the Kurds been asking for since the French Mandate? Mother-tongue education in Kurdish, political freedoms, and de-criminalization of Kurdish identity through constitutional recognition. Demands have not changed much over time. What then needs to change for Kurds to achieve their long-sought-after goals? Syria needs to reconceptualize itself as a multi-ethnic, pluralistic democracy modeled on the idea of integration without assimilation and governance by the will of the people.

That notion of “the will of the people” as “the basis of the authority of the government” [Article 21(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights] somehow got lost along the way in Syria’s history to a point where it is now “the needs of the state” functioning as the sole basis of the authority of the government. Who will form “the people” upon which the authority of a future Syrian government will rest? Does the Syrian National Council truly represent the people? With accusations of foreign influence and declarations from the SNC leadership that Kurds will not be given group rights, the answer is no. The SNC or any representative body requires a willingness to integrate rather than exclude in whole or in part. At some point a new constitutional will be drafted. However, a new constitution will not resolve the current issues without a total overhaul of the country’s political structures and a reframing of the national mindset.

(follow Christian Sinclair on Twitter: @sinclair_c)

Doctors warn of casualties for Kurdish hunger strikers in Strasbourg on their 48th day

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Hunger strikers; Fuat Kav, Gönül Kaya, Ahmet Çelik, Mecbure Özer, Harun Yilmaz, Ahmet Kiliç, Emine Benek, Gulistan Hasan, Nigar Enayati, Erol Polat, İmam Yildiz, Oner Uludag, Kerim Sivri, Tarik Yusufi and Hasan Acar (Photo:YeniOzgurPolitika)

15 Kurdish activists started an unlimited hunger strike in Strasbourg, France, on 1 March 2012. The aim of the action was to support the then ongoing hunger strike of imprisoned BDP parliamentarian Selma Irmak, amongst others. That hunger strike started on 15 February at the same time as the still ongoing hunger strike of 2000 Kurdish political prisoners in Turkish prisons, now on its 63rd day. New people join the hunger strike in prisons on a regular basis, and 500 new people joined  this week resulting in 2000 prisoners currently being on hunger strike in Turkish prisons.

So far three of the hunger strikers in Strasbourg have been in such a bad condition that they have been taken to the hospital but they all were refusing treatment and nutrition supplements and instead demanded to be taken back to rest of the hunger strikers to continue.

The hunger strike in Strasbourg was initiated outside the office of the European Council under the heading of “Freedom for Ocalan” and has so far gathered the support of Kurds and non Kurds alike from many of the European countries. Kurdish artists, internationally renowned public figures and politicians as well as the people of Strasbourg have showed support and solidarity with the unlimited hunger strike.

The demands are concluded in five bullet points (see below) and focus mainly on the health condition of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan and the ongoing state violence of Turkey against the Kurdish people.
The hunger strikers demand;

• that the isolation of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, held in solitary confinement in Imrali prison in Turkey, should immediately stop and that his health condition is improved and guaranteed.
• that representatives from the CPT (European Committee for the Prevention of Torture) visit Imrali to investigate the conditions at the prison island and thereafter notify the public of the results.
• that the European Council takes the correct measures against the Turkish state’s oppression of the Kurdish people
• that the European Union will reconsider their relations with Turkey and if there are not any improvements, the relations with Turkey will come to cease.
• that the PKK is removed from the EU list of terrorist organisations.

The hunger strike has caught the attention of many politicians and the last public figure to raise his voice against Turkish state violations against the Kurdish people is Nobel Peace Prize Laureate from 1984, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. He calls upon the Secretary General of the European Council, Thorbjørn Jagland, to take action in this matter of urgency.

Conference: On the Way to a New Constitution

Click for full-size conference poster

The organisers of this conference have asked us to announce this on Kurdistan Commentary. The overview and programme are below. The programme concept (in .pdf format) can be downloaded here (Turkish & English). The conference will be livestreamed at this site: http://www.anayasayolunda.com. Looks as though there will be lots of room for discussion about the Kurds given the topic of the conference and the line-up of speakers.

Conference Overview:

The events of the Arab Spring brought tremendous change for all Arab countries. Old dictatorships had collapsed, governments had to introduce reforms; the whole process is still ongoing and the results of the events are yet to be seen. In many countries a process of replacing or at least reforming the constitution started. Different models of participation of society and various forms of demands from the people are to be observed.

This conference wants to bring together the various experiences from around the region with a comparative civic/human rights perspective. It intends to focus on the question as to what does it meanto be “free” after the revolution, and try to understand the current dynamics that shape the very basis of a social contract in respective countries? This is an important task, given that for the first time since the modern state building experiences, people of the region now have the chance to develop a common vision on issues pertaining to democratic citizenship, based on their will and internal dynamics in a mutually learning environment. As such, the conference will be dealing with issues and problems of the following sort and similar others:

Programme:

On the Way to a New Constitution:
Middle East, North Africa and Turkey
28th April 2012, Istanbul
Point Hotel Taksim

09:30 Registration
10:00 Opening Remarks
FES Turkey & Helsinki Citizens Assembly

10:15 1st Panel : Regional Caucus on Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey
- Iran:
Abbas Vali, Boğaziçi University
- Syria:
Christian Sinclair, University of Arizona
- Kurdistan Regional Government:
Rebwar Kerim Wali, Rudaw
- Turkey:
Cengiz Çandar, Radikal Daily

Moderation: Nigâr Hacızade

12:00 Coffee Break

12:15 Discussion

13:30 Lunch

15:00 2nd Panel: Regional Caucus on Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Turkey
- Egypt:
Amr Shalakany, American University of Cairo
- Tunisia:
Choukri Hmed, Université Paris-Dauphine
- Algeria:
Omar Benderra, International Committee of Solidarity with the Algerian free Trade-Unions
- Turkey:
Ayhan Bilgen, Democratic Constitution Movement

Moderation: Işın Eliçin

16:45 Coffee Break

17:00 Discussion

18:15 Concluding remarks: Herta Däubler-Gmelin, Former Minister of Justice, Germany

English-Turkish simultaneous translation will be provided during the conference.

SPEAKERS:

Abbas Vali
Vali obtained a BA in Political Science from the National University of Iran in 1973. He then moved to the UK to continue his graduate studies in modern political and social theory. He obtained an MA in Politics from the University of Keele in 1976. He then received his PhD in Sociology from the University of London in 1983. This was followed by a post-doctoral research fellowship funded by the Economic and Social Research Council in 1984. Abbas Vali began his academic carrier in 1986 in the Department of Political Theory and Government at the University of Wales, Swansea. He was invited by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to establish and lead a new university in Erbil in 2005. He was the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kurdistan before he was removed for disagreements with the KRG over the management of the university in May 2008. Professor Vali has since been teaching Modern Social and Political Theory in the Department of Sociology at Bogazici University in Istanbul.

Rebwar Kerim Wali
Rebwar Kerim Wali started to work as a journalist in 1995, and is currently the editor-in-chief of the Rudaw Newspaper which is being published in Iraqi Kurdistan and Europe. Furthermore he is also the chief editor of the newly formed Rudaw TV. Rebwar Kerim Wali worked as a journalist during the civil war that erupted due to the dispute between the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Kurdistan Partriotic Union. Before he was imprisoned in 2002 because of his articles, he continued to work as a domestic journalist. In 2003 he started to work as a correspondent and representative for foreign press agencies such as BBC Turkish, RFI Farsi, Independent Europe Radio. In 2004 he established the Peyamner News Agency, the first independent news agency in Kurdistan. He is also the founder of Zagros TV where he functioned as the chief editor for 1,5 years. Furthermore, Wali is the founder of the following newspapers: Hewler Post, Bevada, Rudaw. Hewler Post was also the first newspaper to be published online in Turkish. His mother tongue being Kurdish, Wali also fluently speaks Persian, Arabic and Turkish. He also has intermediate knowledge in English.

Christian Sinclair
Christian Sinclair is deputy director of the University of Arizona’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies and director of the university’s program in Jordan. He is also a member of the executive committee of the US-based Kurdish Studies Association. Sinclair teaches “Democratization and Human Rights in the Middle East” at UA and “Ethnography of the Middle East” in Jordan. He has given more than a dozen talks in the past couple years in the US and Europe, mainly on the human rights situation of the Kurds, with particular focus on media, language, and politics. His most reason article, published in MERIP, is “The Evolution of Kurdish Politics in Syria.” Sinclair lived in Syria for seven years in the 1990s and has returned regularly since then.

Amr Shalakany
Amr Shalakany has served as associate professor of law in American University of Cairo since 2004. He served for four years as LL.M. Program Director since the Law Departments establishment in 2005. He also holds a joint appointment as Assistant Professor of Civil Law at Cairo University Faculty of Law. Before joining AUC, Shalakany was the Jeremiah Smith Junior Visiting Assistant Professor at Harvard Law School, where he taught Comparative Law and Islamic Law. Earlier, he served as legal advisor to the PLO Negotiations Support Unit in Ramallah during the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process, and also taught at Birzeit University and helped set up the Law Clinic at the Law Institute. His recent projects include completing his Carnegie Scholar book manuscript tentatively entitled “The Redefinition of Shari’a in Modern Egyptian Legal Thought: 1798 — Present;” co-editing with Prof Khaled Fahmy the collected papers from “New Approaches to Modern Egyptian Legal History,” a symposium held in June 2009; and “A Short History of the Modern Egyptian Legal Elite” (forthcoming in Boutiveau & Maugiron eds., Egypt and Its Laws (2011).

Choukri Hmed
Choukri Hmed is an Associate Professor in Political Science at the Paris-Dauphine University since September 2007. He is also Visiting Associate Professor at Bing Overseas Stanford Program in History and International Relations (Centre of Paris). He is currently director of the Master, Social and Political Researches, at the Paris-Dauphine University, and associated researcher at the Institut de recherche interdisciplinaire en sciences sociales (IRISSO, UMR CNRS 7170). Since 2011 he carries out a fieldwork research on the revolutionary process and contentious politics in Tunisia. Among his publications are: Choukri Hmed, 2011, “Apprendre à devenir révolutionnaire en Tunisie”, Les Temps modernes, 664; Choukri Hmed et al., eds, 2011, “Observer les mobilisations”, Politix. Revue des sciences sociales du politique, 93.

Omar Benderra
Omar Benderra, born in Algiers (Algeria), now living in Paris (France), has studied economy and finance in Algiers. He is the former chairman of an Algerian state-owned bank for the period 1989-1991. Since then, he’s been working as a consultant and journalist. Omar Benderra is member to the International Committee of Solidarity with the Algerian free Trade-Unions (CISA) –Paris, director of the Frantz Fanon Foundation, and a fellow of the Centre for North African Studies in Cambridge University.

Cengiz Çandar
Cengiz Çandar is a journalist and former war correspondent from Turkey. He began his career as a journalist in 1976 in the newspaper Vatan after living some years in the Middle East and in Europe due to his opposition to the regime in Turkey following the military intervention in 1971. As an expert on the Middle East (Lebanon and Palestine) and the Balkans (Bosnia-Herzegovina), Çandar worked for the Turkish News Agency and for the leading Turkish newspapers Cumhuriyet, Hürriyet, Referans and Güneş. Currently, he is a columnist at Radikal Daily. Çandar served as special adviser to Turkish president Turgut Özal between 1991 and 1993. Between 1999 and 2000, he conducted research on “Turkey in the 21st Century” as a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and as a Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace.

Ayhan Bilgen
Ayhan Bilgen is a journalist and Kurdish human rights activist. He studies Public Management at Ankara University and functioned as the Head of the Ankara Office of MAZLUMDER and was a member of the board of directors in the very same association. In May 2006 at the 7th General Assembly he was elected to become the president of the association for two years. Furthermore, Bilgen works as a columnist for the Ülkede Özgür Gündem newapaper. In the general election on 22 July 2007 he ran as an independent MP candidate from Konya as part of the Bin Umut Adayları (a campaign backed by mainly Kurdish independent MP candidates in response to the 10% threshold). He has recently been working on issues relating to the writing of a democratic and encompassing new constitution.