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.

Kurdistan Commentary announces two new authors

Shiler Amini and Christian Sinclair will be joining Kurdistan Commentary as regular authors.

Shiler Amini

Shiler Amini is a PhD candidate in Kurdish Studies at the University of Exeter. She is a news journalist with a background in sociology, with interests concentrated around Kurdish politics, media, women’s rights, linguistics and the Kurdish diaspora. Amini currently writes editorials for online journals such as Rojhelat: The Kurdish Observer and Kurd.se | Den Kurdiska Rösten and will now be doing the same for Kurdistan Commentary.

Christian Sinclair

Christian Sinclair, who has posted with Kurdistan Commentary before, is assistant director of University of Arizona’s Centre for Middle Eastern Studies. He is also on the Kurdish Studies Association’s executive committee. Sinclair’s interests — as they relate to Kurdish Studies — include human rights, politics, media, and language and he is a frequent speaker on Kurdish issues. His article, The Evolution of Kurdish Politics in Syria, was published by MERIP last August. He will write a fortnightly column, which will appear Mondays beginning on 7th May.

Kurdistan Commentary is very excited to have these two join the team. Their expertise in the region and exceptional writing skills will afford Kurdistan Commentary’s readers new insights into the field of Kurdish Studies.

Kurdistan Commentary welcomes other authors/bloggers to share their stories. If you are interested in joining the Kurdistan Commentary team, send an email to us at kurdistancommentary@googlemail.com. There is no editorial oversight for authors with a proven track record. Authors will be given an author account and post directly to Kurdistan Commentary.

Press freedom takes another hit in Turkey as Özgür Gündem is shuttered for one month

Özgür Gündem, the pro-Kurdish daily, was suspended again after a court decided on Saturday that the paper was ‘spreading terrorist propaganda.’ Police then raided the printing press where Özgür Gündem is published and confiscated Sunday’s edition of the newspaper. The newspaper will be closed for a month because the court ruling says that news, photographs, and commentaries published on pages 1, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the 25th March edition were making propaganda for a terrorist organisation. See those pages via the online edition of yesterday’s paper here.

Huseyin Aykol, editor of Özgür Gündem, said the court cited the newspaper’s reporting of Newroz celebration from the Qandil mountains as one example of spreading terrorist propaganda. Supporters of press freedom gathered yesterday in Istanbul’s Taksim Square to protest the decision to close the daily.

Huseyin Aykol, editor of Özgür Gündem

Last November and December, police raided Özgür Gündem offices, detained several of the newspaper’s journalists and carted away computers as part of a crackdown on Kurdish media outlets. At present, 11 Özgür Gündem journalists are behind bars due to their alleged links to the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK).

Özgür Gündem, which prints in Turkish to raise awareness of the Kurdish issue, was first published in 1992 but was banned two years later and only began publishing again on 04 April 2011. During that time employees, including reporters, were attacked and even murdered to silence the newspaper. After its closure in April 1994 it re-opened under the name of Özgür Ülke. Eight months later, in December 1994, three offices of Özgür Ülke were bombed, which resulted in the death of one of its employees in addition to 21 wounded.

Because of the gross abuses against the newspaper, a case was brought to the European Court of Human Rights against Turkey. The case originated in an application (no. 23144/93) against the Republic of Turkey lodged with the Commission under former Article 25 by then editor-in-chief (Gurbetelli Ersöz), assistant editor-in-chief (Fahri Ferda Çetin) and two owners of the newspaper Özgür Gündem. The newspaper was closed after being subjected to a series of attacks and harassment which the applicants claimed were the direct or indirect responsibility of Turkish authorities.

The basic premise of the case, as described in the brief, was as follows:

Özgür Gündem was a daily newspaper the main office of which was situated in Istanbul. It was a Turkish language publication with an estimated national circulation of up to 45,000 copies and a further unspecified international circulation. It incorporated its predecessor, the weekly publication Yeni Ülke, which was produced between 1990 and 1992. Özgür Gündem was published from 30 May 1992 until April 1994. It was succeeded by another newspaper, Özgür Ülke.

The case concerns the allegations of the applicants that Özgür Gündem was the subject of serious attacks and harassment which forced its eventual closure and for which the Turkish authorities are directly or indirectly responsible.

The court document then describes the details of circumstances in which several persons connected with the paper were killed; newsagents were attacked, arson attacks were perpetrated against news-stands and newsagents, and bombs exploded at the newspaper’s offices and a news-agency.

On 16 March 2000, the European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously against Turkey that this was violation of freedom of expression (Article 10) and must pay compensation.

The evidence showed that there were numerous incidents of violence involving the newspaper, journalists, distributors and other persons associated with it. The concerns of the paper were brought to the attention of the authorities; no measures were taken to investigate the situation, and no protective measures were taken save in two incidents.

In one instance, the Court noted the provocative nature of some of the articles which spoke of Kurdistan, implying that it was or should be a separate territory. However, said the court, the public enjoys the right to be informed of different perspectives on the situation in Southeastern Turkey no matter how unpalatable to the authorities.

A film has been made about that time period and the struggles of the newspaper. Press (Sedat Yılmaz, 2010) presents its problematic through the daily struggles of the Özgür Gündem reporters in Diyarbakır for acquiring news and delivering them to the readers. They are after the news that were ignored and concealed by the “holding newspapers”, which are mainly about the illegal operations of the military and paramilitary forces and the deep state. The Diyarbakır team consists of a small team of correspondents, who are threatened and murdered one by one. They play cat and mouse in the narrow streets of Diyarbakır and in the bus terminals of the neighbouring towns. The distribution of the paper in the region is not allowed. Besides, the kiosks are threatened to be burnt. Read more here.

Film clip from Press:

sources:

Toksabay, Ece. Turkish court bans pro-Kurdish daily for month-editor. Reuters, 25 March 2012

The daily Özgür Gündem closed for a month. GIT- North America, 25 March 2012

Ozgur Gundem v Turkey. Article 19, 16 March 2000

Rojnameya Ozgur Gundemê ji bo mehekê hat girtin. Azadiya Welat, 25 March 2012

2012 IPI Free Media Pioneer Award: call for nominations

NOMINATE AZADIYA WELAT FOR THE 2012 IPI FREE MEDIA PIONEER AWARD!

The International Press Institute (IPI) is looking for nominations for the 2012 Free Media Pioneer Award. Since 1996, IPI has recognized the work of one media organisation each year that has improved press freedom and media independence in its home country or region.

IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie says that her organisation believes ‘in the power of journalists helping journalists, and media helping media. With the IPI Free Media Pioneer Award, we want to put a spotlight on those media organizations that are pushing press freedom forward in their countries through their sustained efforts, professionalism and boldness, and often in the face of great risk.’

Sustained efforts, professionalism and boldness, and often in the face of great risk. Often in the face of great risk. One organisation, I believe, truly stands out in its relentless pursuit of the right to freedom of speech. That is Turkey’s sole Kurdish-language daily Azadiya Welat.

The newspaper Azadiya Welat has been suspended multiple times by the Turkish justice system, its staff routinely harassed and imprisoned, the newspapers confiscated.

Three editors-in-chief have been sentenced to a total of 325 years in prison amongst them: Vedat Kurşun, Ruken Ergün and Ozan Kılınç. Thirteen journalists/ correspondents from Azadiya Welat are in prison. Aziz Tekin became number thirteen less than a week ago.

Writing about Kurdish issues from a Kurdish perspective in Kurdish remains taboo and is used as a pretext for legal proceedings against too many media outlets and journalists in Turkey. Journalists and editors alike are charged using Turkey’s vague anti-terrorism laws in an effort to silence the Kurdish minority.

Please join me in nominating Azadiya Welat for the 2012 IPI Free Media Pioneer Award. Send an e-mail to office@freemedia.at no later than 10 February 2012 and request that Azadiya Welat be nominated!

#TwitterKurds takes the civil disobedience campaign online

A campaign on Twitter is underway to raise awareness of the situation of the Kurds in Turkey and to bring the situation to the attention of the international media.

The campaign, dubbed #TwitterKurds, has been organised by UK-based blogger and human-rights activist, Hevallo, who says that journalists in the UK tend to shy away from reporting on the Kurds saying ‘there is no real link to the UK and there are other conflicts that are more newsworthy.’

While other conflicts across the globe capture the world’s attention, the Kurds’ struggle for ethnic and linguistic equality in Turkey goes largely unnoticed in the mainstream press. Hevallo says that one of the main issues hindering the ability of global media to report on this particular conflict fairly and accurately is that ‘Turkish propaganda and psychological misinformation cloud the issue and many people still regard the Kurds’ legitimate struggle for basic rights in Turkey as “terrorism.”’

The Kurd as ‘terrorist’ is an all too common theme in the Turkish press and often in European press as well. Little effort is made to reach beyond the Turkish propaganda machine and clichés to reveal the truth.

The #TwitterKurds campaign will attempt to do just that by reaching out to journalists, politicians, bloggers and social media activists, policymakers, news agencies and human rights organisations with the message: ‘Speak Out About the Repression of the Kurds in Turkey’ and to give the Kurdish people a voice as they struggle daily on the streets of Turkey against a repressive regime.

Kurdish politician and leader of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), Selahattin Demirtaş, said acts of civil disobedience planned by the BDP and the DTK (Democratic Society Congress) will be democratic and peaceful. ‘Don’t send the security forces against us; if you are going to send someone, send government representatives, send the interior minister. Security forces aren’t our counterpart to talk to; our counterparts are the politicians,’ he said.

However, security forces have been sent against them. The civil disobedience campaign has been met with batons, tear gas and high-pressure water cannons. In fact, just since the beginning of this year Turkish police have already used up their entire annual stock of tear gas in repressing demonstrations. In the same amount of time thousands of Kurdish protesters have been arrested.

Given the difficulties of getting this information to the attention of the global press, #TwitterKurds plans three days of mass Tweeting to get the message out. Turkey’s general election is slated for 12 June, just three weeks away. Over the next three Fridays (27 May, 03 and 10 June) in the run up to the elections, while Kurds are boycotting the official Turkish Imams and praying outside of the mosques instead, Kurds and friends of Kurds will be Tweeting en masse to speak out with one voice against the suppression of the Kurds in Turkey.

This collective suppression of the Kurdish population is due, in part, to ‘the silence in the international community,’ says Hevallo. By Tweeting, he says, ‘we are able to reach a wider audience than say, Facebook. If we are disciplined and smart about this, a well-constructed Tweet with a link to a well-written article, photograph or video can convey our message and give the Kurdish side’s point of view. Our Tweets will expose the truth about the Kurdish question in Turkey.’

Politicians are making the rounds in Kurdish areas of SE Turkey trying to garner votes. Yesterday Turkish PM Erdoğan was on the campaign trail in the city of Şirnex (Şırnak in Turkish). Surrounded by rooftop snipers and army helicopters he announced to the crowd of Kurds: ‘My brothers, we will build new hospitals, airports, schools and health clinics. For us [the party in power], there is no separation between a Turk and a Kurd. Let us serve you.’

Kurds have four demands and hospitals, airports, schools and health clinics are not among them, though this is a step up from the washing machines and dishwashers offered in the 2009 election.

Kurds are engaging in a massive campaign of civil disobedience for the right to education in Kurdish, the immediate release of imprisoned Kurdish politicians, an end to Turkey’s military operations against the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and the abolishment of Turkey’s 10 percent election threshold law for parliamentary representation.

‘Until our demands are heard by the government and until concrete steps are taken, we will remain on the fields and on the squares,’ said Demirtaş.

#TwitterKurds says that until Kurdish voices are heard by the international media and until people start paying attention, the campaign will remain on the Twitter timelines.

Join the campaign at #TwitterKurds!

Kurdish Awakening in Syria

After taking the lead in Friday’s demonstrations, waving Syrian flags emblazoned with the word ‘AZADÎ’ (Kurdish for freedom), Kurds in Syria have taken another bold step. Yesterday the National Movement of Kurdish Parties in Syria threw its political weight behind the mainstream opposition and announced its own initiative to resolve the current crisis in Syria. Twelve Kurdish political party leaders gathered in Qamişlo to make the announcement, demanding ‘concrete steps’ be taken to end the repression and transform the country into a democracy.

The political group, in its first official statement since the uprising in Syria began more than two months ago, has outlined a comprehensive plan for democratic change and fundamental reform at all levels. The plan is an effort to end one-party rule and the monopoly of power, and to build a modern, civil state that would ensure justice and equality of rights and, ultimately, achieve a true partnership of all citizens in the management of affairs of the country.

Syrian authorities announced on Friday plans for a ‘national dialogue’, but Kurdish leaders say that there are essential steps and reforms that need to be implemented before any national dialogue can take place.

Mohammad Ismail, a senior member of the Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria said that the Kurdish declaration was issued to show that Kurds ‘are a part of the national struggle for freedom in Syria.’ Kurds, the country’s largest ethnic minority, make up some 10% of the country’s population, estimated to be around 22 million.

In making the announcement, the Kurdish National Movement made it clear that it believes that a comprehensive national dialogue is the best solution to end the current turmoil in the country. However, to make the dialogue work reforms need to be in place first.

The declaration called on the government to refrain from the use of violence and allow protesters to freely express themselves, to implement the presidential decree lifting the state of emergency and martial law, and to abolish all special courts and laws. It called for the release of all prisoners of conscience and political prisoners and to allow political movements and parties to publicly pursue their political activities. It asked for the cancellation of all discriminatory policies and decrees applied to the rights of the Kurdish people, the reinstatement of citizenship for the ‘maktoumeem’, and to focus attention on Kurdish areas of the country that have been neglected in the past.

They asked for an inclusive national conference without the dominance of any one party, the first of its functions being the adoption of a new draft constitution that eliminates the privilege to any one party, and includes the recognition of national, political and linguistic pluralism. Most importantly, it would need to offer constitutional recognition of the Kurds and the protection and security of cultural rights of all national minorities and religious groups in the country.

The declaration also recommends the separation of legislative, executive and judiciary powers, and the independence and strengthening of the judiciary as well as media and press freedoms.

Watch videos of the reading of the announcement in Qamişlo yesterday. Mohamed Mousa, the Secretary of Kurdish Left Party, is reading the declaration.

Part One

Part Two

HRW slams media repression in Kurdistan

HRW slams media repression and widening use of force in crackdowns on peaceful protesters in Kurdistan. Excerpts (related to Kurdistan) below are from ‘Iraq: Widening Crackdown on Protests: New Restrictions, Abuse in Arbil, Sulaimaniya, Baghdad‘, Human Rights Watch, New York, 21 April 2011.

Kurdistan authorities should end their widening crackdown on peaceful protests in northern Iraq, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should hold accountable those responsible for attacking protesters and journalists in Arbil and Sulaimaniya since April 17, 2011, including opening fire on demonstrators and beating them severely, Human Rights Watch said.

The Kurdistan Regional Government authorities should revoke their recent bans on unlicensed demonstrations in Sulaimaniya province, Human Rights Watch said.

“Iraqi authorities in Kurdistan and Baghdad need to rein in their security forces and protect the right to protest peacefully,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Repression in Kurdistan

In the afternoon of April 18 in Arbil, the Kurdistan capital, dozens of armed men in civilian clothes attacked students from the Kurdistan region’s largest university, Salahadin, as they tried to hold a demonstration. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the assailants also attacked journalists and at least one Member of Parliament.

A third-year Salahadin student told Human Rights Watch that a large group of organized assailants wearing civilian clothes attacked the protesters with brute force.

“We chanted ‘freedom, freedom,’ and then security forces came and abolished the demonstration,” the student said. “They were hitting people by knives and sticks … and arrested 23 protesters.”

The assailants beat Muhamad Kyani, a member of the Iraqi national parliament for the opposition party Goran (Change) List, and his bodyguard while they were walking away from the demonstration. “There was no violence from us, nothing happened from our side to incite them,” Kyani told Human Rights Watch. “I was on my way to the car when the Asayish [the official security agency for the Kurdistan region] threw me to the ground and started to kick and beat me.” Kyani had two black eyes and other minor injuries from the beating. “They just wanted to intimidate and insult me and those with me,” he said. “During the beating they swore at us and called me a traitor.”

Reporters without Borders documented attacks on at least 10 journalists covering the April 18 protest. The group said assailants also detained numerous journalists, including Awara Hamid of the newspaper Rozhnam, Bahman Omer of Civil Magazine, Hajar Anwar, bureau chief of the Kurdistan News Network, and Mariwan Mala Hassan, a KNN reporter, as well as two of the station’s cameramen.

Shwan Sidiq of Civil Magazine was hospitalized after the assailants broke his hand. “My hand is broken, my head still hurts,” he told Human Rights Watch. “What I saw was what in 1988 Saddam Hussein did against me and my family.”

Security forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government and the two ruling parties there, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, have used repressive measures against journalists since the start of the protests in Iraq on February 17. The local press freedom group Metro Center has documented more than 150 cases of attacks and harassment of Kurdish journalists since February 17. In March, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 20 journalists covering the protests in Kurdistan.

“Time and again we found that security forces and their proxies violate journalists’ freedom of expression through death threats, arbitrary arrests, beatings, harassment, and by confiscating and vandalizing their equipment,” Stork said.

In Sulaimaniya, daily clashes since April 17 have injured more than 100 protesters, journalists, and security forces. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that on April 17 security forces fired live ammunition into the air to clear protesters blocking a road, while others shot into the crowd indiscriminately, wounding at least seven demonstrators.

“Police and security forces used everything to attack us,” one protester told Human Rights Watch. “They opened fire, threw stones, used sticks and their Kalashnikovs to keep us from demonstrating.”

Protest organizers told Human Rights Watch that on April 18, security forces violently seized control of Sara Square, the center of daily protests in Sulaimaniya since February 17, and demolished the protesters’ podium. Security forces have fanned out across the city and have refused to allow protesters back to the site – renamed Azadi (Freedom) Square by demonstrators – resulting in clashes on April 18 and 19.

On March 6, masked assailants attacked demonstrators and set their tents on fire but failed to evict protesters from the site.

On April 19, protest organizers said, security forces detained dozens of students and others in and around Sulaimaniya, releasing most later in the day. One law undergraduate told Human Rights Watch that security forces attacked her and other protesters at the Dukan checkpoint on their way to Sulaimaniya.

“We were forced to get off the buses,” she said. “They threatened if we went [to the protest], we would be killed. A friend of mine asked them not to shoot us because we have pens and not guns, but when he raised his pen security forces opened fire and he was badly injured.”

Since then, this student said, she has received anonymous threatening phone calls telling her not to return to Sulaymaniya. Security forces raided Koya University, where she studies, and arrested two students. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

The family of a prominent Kurdish writer and activist, Rebin Hardi, told Human Rights Watch that security forces severely beat him during and after his arrest on April 19 for participating in a protest in front of the Sulaimaniya courthouse. Photos taken after his release later that day viewed by Human Rights Watch showed severe swelling up and down the right sight of his body including his eye, arm, and thigh.

Since February 17, clashes with security forces have killed at least seven civilians and injured more than 250 demonstrators in Kurdistan, but thousands have continued to protest alleged corruption and the political dominance of the KDP and PUK.

On April 19, the government’s Security Committee for Sulaimaniya Province banned all unlicensed demonstrations. Legislation passed by the Kurdistan Regional Government in December gives authorities wide discretion in deciding whether to approve a license for a protest. The law’s wording is exceptionally vague and susceptible to abuse, Human Rights Watch said. Under article 3(c) of the law, authorities can reject a request if “the protest will damage the system or public decency.”

Syria: Will Friday bring dignity or disaster?

Newroz in Qamişlo

March has been a month of contradictions in Syria. Protests and clashes have rocked the town of Dera’a in southwestern Syria, while Kurds are receiving positive, though not necessarily sincere, attention from the regime.

As Kurdistan Commentary wrote in early February, if protests were to occur in Syria, ‘given the regime’s penchant for non-tolerance of disobedience and ruthless repression of dissent, the other possibility is violent suppression of the protests.’ And the result ‘will be nothing short of mayhem.’

Protesters Dera’a, where the death toll is in the dozens, are demanding the repeal the Emergency Law adopted in 1963 when the ruling Ba’ath Party took power, the release of political prisoners, free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections, and economic reforms to alleviate chronic unemployment and growing poverty in the country. It is not terribly surprising then that Dera’a, one of the poorest regions in the country, is at the epicentre of the protests.

While all the attention on Syria right now is focused on the clashes and killings in Dera’a and other nearby towns, Dera’a is probably the town furthest from Qamişlo (al-Qamishli in Arabic), the Kurdish centre of Syria.

The Kurdish minority in Syria, some 10% of the population, faces severe restrictions on cultural and linguistic expression, and systematic and pervasive human rights abuses by the Ba’athist regime. The state of emergency that has been in force since 1963, gives the security agencies virtually unlimited authority to arrest suspects and hold them incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge.

Given Qamişlo’s past, the Syrian regime hedged its bets and stepped up security there and other regional Kurdish areas. The Syrian military was deployed in force in Qamişlo just prior to Newroz (Kurdish New Year celebrated on the spring equinox) and thousands of soldiers were stationed in al-Hassakeh. It was reported though that the security forces in the Kurdish region were under strict instructions not to clash with the Kurds during Newroz, a time during which Kurds and Syrian security forces typically come to blows often resulting in deaths and mass arrests.

Newroz celebration. Photo/SANA

In a very interesting twist this year, SANA (the official state-run Syrian Arab News Agency) reported that Kurds in Syria celebrated Newroz. Syrian media never mention or acknowledge the Kurds. The SANA report emphasised ‘the state of amity binding all Syrians in a fabulous national mosaic.’ The report also said that Kurds celebrated joyously waving Syrian flags.

The Kurdish website Soparo also reported that two TV channels (Orient TV and Ad-Dounia TV) in Syria broadcast events from Newroz celebrations in Drejik, a village some 30km from Qamişlo.

In Qamişlo, Kurds poured into the streets to celebrate Newroz. Though no clashes with the authorities were reported, speakers at the celebrations echoed calls for ending state of emergency, release of political prisoners, and respect for political freedoms. At night, celebrations turned to protests, with protesters filling the narrow streets of the city, shouting ‘Freedom, Freedom, Freedom’ and cars honked their horns.

A Kurd from a prominent dissident family in Qamişlo said: ‘I’ve lost my mother, sister, and brother, and I have nothing more to lose. At the same time, looking at what’s happened in previous years, I don’t even want to think what the reaction would be if we step out of line.’

In another gesture to the Kurds, the Syrian Ministry for Social Affairs and Labour announced on 07 March, that registered stateless Kurds in Syria (ajanib) would have the same status as Syrian citizens in all areas of employment. Until then, ajanib were not allowed to own a business or register one in their name. Nor did they have the right to work as a state employee (such as a teacher, judge, or doctor in a public hospital), or to practice law. The extent to which this decision will be implemented currently remains unclear. This decision does not affect the unregistered stateless Kurds, the maktumeen.

Buthaina Sha’aban

But just a few days later it was business as usual. Students at the University of Damascus were arrested for observing a moment of silence with other students at the university to mark the seventh anniversary of the ‘Qamişlo Uprising.’ It is not currently known which security service arrested the two students or where they are being held.

Clearly the regime in Damascus does not want confrontations with its Kurdish populations at the moment while it is violently repressing demonstrations in Dera’a. It is unfortunate though that the relative calm in the northeast comes only because of the harsh crackdowns in the southwest.

Yesterday, Bashar al-Asad’s political and media advisor, Buthaina Sha’aban, wished Kurds a ‘Newroz Mubarak’ or ‘happy new year,’ as she spoke at a news conference describing the ‘wonderful coexistence’ amongst Syrian people. More of the ‘fabulous national mosaic’ discourse. Sha’aban also said the government was drafting a law that would allow political parties other than the ruling Ba’ath party, would examine lifting emergency law, and loosen media restrictions.

Dignity Friday

Media restrictions are some of the most severe in the Middle East. In early February, however, the Syrian regime restored access to Facebook and YouTube, both of which had been long banned. Kurds have set up a Facebook page (Şoreşa Ciwanên Kurd/ثورة الشباب الكردي) that links to the other Syrian sites calling for change in Syria. Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said however that ‘one month after allowing Facebook into Syria, Syrian forces are detaining those who dare to use it to communicate.’

Today, Friday, 25 March may well be a tipping point for protesters calling for reforms. Today is supposed to be a day of protests, dubbed ‘Dignity Friday’ by online democracy activists, and calling for rallies across the country.

With dawn breaking in Qamişlo, there are already reports on Twitter of gunfire, protests, and marches there, as well as pro-regime forces driving through the city beeping their horns.

Protesters chant ‘God, Syria and just freedom’ and then ‘freedom, freedom’, on 21 March 2011, as Kurdish flags fly in the background. The chant is a take on the Baa’thist chant ‘God, Syria and Assad.’ Video clip found at Alliance for Kurdish Rights website.

SOURCES:

Blanford, Nicholas. Syria protests escalate, but could revolt really take root? MinnPost, 21 March 2011.

Malla, Hussein and Zeina Karam. Syria concessions fail to ease fears ahead of Dignity Friday. The Scotsman, 25 March 2011.

Damascus: Ajanib receive equal status in employment matters. KurdWatch, 14 March 2011.

Damascus: Students arrested after moment of silence. KurdWatch, 16 March 2011.

Syrian Revolution Digest, March 21, 2011. Damascus Bureau, 23 March 2011.

Syria: Security Forces Kill Dozens of Protesters. Human Rights Watch, 24 March 2011

أخبار: شعبان: دراسة انهاء العمل بقانون الطوارئ بالسرعة الكلية , تشكيل لجنة لمحاسبة المتسببين والمقصرين في أحداث درعا, زيادة الرواتب للعاملين في الدولة بصورة فورية , تعديل مرسوم 49 Welatê Me, 24 March 2011.

لأول مرة قناتين تلفزيونيتين سوريتين تغطيان نوروز سوريا والكرد يحييون فيها انتفاضة 15 آذار السورية Soparo, 22 March 2011.

دمشق والمحافظات تشهد احتفالات بعيد النوروز.. المشاركون: تعكس التنوع الثقافي والحضاري وتعبر عن الألفة والمحبة بين أبناء الوطن SANA, 22 March 2011.

AUI-S Voice: independent student media

The AUI-S Voice, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, is a publication of the students of The American University of Iraq-Sulaimani (AUI-S). AUI-S is a private non-profit university offering a comprehensive American-style liberal arts education to all qualified students regardless of their affiliation or origin. It opened its doors in October 2007.

The AUI-S Voice published its first issue on 31 January 2010 and to date has published 24 issues, with articles about a Facebook ban on the university campus, student feelings towards a ‘liberal arts’ education, tree planting on campus to reduce CO2, and student support for Egyptian protesters.

Click to watch video of the Voice's first year celebration

Arez Hussen Ahmed, who majors in international studies, is the Editor-in-Chief and leads a staff of 50 students at this first independent student newspaper in Iraq. Ahmed, 19, calls the work challenging and says that the Voice, whose first commitment is to news about the university, ‘records the history of AUI-S.’

In an article published yesterday on the American Journalism Review website Jackie Spinnner, who was the founder and first faculty adviser of the Voice, describes it as ‘a scrappy bimonthly newspaper with an excess of spelling and grammatical errors as well as an abundance of ambition.’

She goes on to say that the Voice ‘is attempting to do what few professional media outlets have been able to accomplish since the fall of Saddam Hussein: to bring Arab and Kurdish journalists together in a politically and ethnically divided Iraq with no alliance to any political party or religious sect, with no allegiance to anything at all except fairness and accuracy.’

The Voice’s website describes itself as ‘an independent publication and is not connected to any political party, religious group or ethnic group’ and says it ‘will defend [the newspaper] against influence from any group or individual, including those who support [it] logistically and financially.’

The newspaper got off to a rocky start though because of attempts to control it. When it first tried to begin publishing in 2009, political parties tried to control it through the students, and the AUI-S administration immediately shut it down.

Now the Voice prohibits students in political party leadership positions from overseeing the staff, accepting financial contributions from political parties, and publishing stories or editorials about political issues.

The staff members consist of Kurdish and Arab students, diligently working to create a sustainable publication that could serve as a model for other student newspapers in the country.

The Voice’s first photo editor, Hazha Ahmed, says the staff ‘all started from zero and had no skill of how to work in a newspaper, but with the passage of time and engaging more with the work, I learned that we are capable of managing a newspaper that achieved many accomplishments.’

Namo Kaftan, the paper’s first Web editor, assigned video reports, created multimedia and updated the site. The Voice’s website contains some video reports and slide shows as well as .pdf copies of all its issues.

Former faculty adviser Spinner says though that ‘the students have not produced any new multimedia reports or posted breaking news on the Voice website in five months because no one has taught the new staff how to produce the reports or stressed the importance of the Web.’

The Voice does have a Facebook page, which seems somewhat active and has 564 ‘likes.’ However, their Twitter feed shows fewer than a dozen tweets with nothing new for almost a year.

Iraqi media specialist, Mohammed Salih, who is at AUI-S says this commitment ‘to having an independent campus newspaper is a cause for much celebration.’ He adds that ‘it is also a cause for hope that the young generation, through some assistance and liberal education, as offered at AUI-S, is capable of putting forward a different vision for the future of the country, one that shows despite all differences we can work together in a productive manner.’

Kurdistan Commentary wishes the staff of the Voice success in their journalistic endeavours. It is a worthy undertaking that we hope will produce the next generation of journalists in a region in need of a free and fair media, reporting and publishing freely and without the stress of undue political influences.
Sources:

Spinner, Jackie. Letter From Iraq, American Journalism Review, 03 March 2011.

AUI-S Voice website

The American University of Iraq-Sulaimani website

 

Death threats and targeted physical attacks on journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) wrote [yesterday] to KRG President Massoud Barzani, voicing deep concern about the deterioration in the situation of journalists there since 17 February. The situation for journalists in Kurdistan has never been great. In November 2010 RWB released a mission report entitled Between Freedom and Abuses: The Media Paradox in Iraqi Kurdistan that explored tense relationships that exist between the government and journalists, saying that there remains a profound lack of understanding between authorities and media professionals, as neither camp seems to accept the role of, or necessity for, the other.

The RWB letter:

HE Massoud Barzani
President of the Kurdistan Regional Government
Office of the President
Erbil

Paris, 28 February 2011

Dear President Barzani,

In a report released on 3 November, Reporters Without Borders said there was more press freedom in Iraqi Kurdistan than in surrounding regions and that the situation had improved considerably in the past 10 years. However we would now like to share with you our deep concern about the deterioration in the situation of journalists in your autonomous region since 17 February.

During the past 10 days, our organization has registered many physical attacks by the security forces on journalists covering the current demonstrations. Many journalists have also told us that they have received explicit death threats. Please find enclosed a list of these incidents, which is not exhaustive.

As president of the autonomous regional government of Iraqi Kurdistan, Reporters Without Borders urges you to do everything in your power to end these media freedom violations and to ensure that the safety of all journalists is guaranteed. We would also like these incidents to be investigated, especially the arson attack on the privately-owned TV station NRT on 20 February.

We thank you in advance for the attention you give to our request.

Sincerely,

Jean-François Julliard
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general

A non-exhaustive list of incidents targeting media personnel during the past 10 days

* 27 February – incidents at Erbil

- Allan Sahebqrran
, a reporter for the newspaper Hawlati, was attacked by men in civilian dress, who slashed his face.

I was outside the headquarters of the Erbil governorate with other journalists,” he said. “People in civilian dress ordered us to leave. At first they said they were police. Then they said they worked for the Asayesh [intelligence services]. We also saw their cards. We were then followed by 12 plainclothes members of the security forces. When we got to the centre of Erbil, they hit me. Some of them filmed what was happening while the others kept on hitting me. I filed a complaint and was able to recover my camera from the Asayesh a bit later but I did not get my mobile phone back. My neck still hurts.”

- Shwan Sidiq, a reporter for Civil Magazine, told Reporters Without Borders that a man in civilian dress prevented him from taking photos of a demonstrator who had been injured in Erbil.

- Garmiyani Hamay Pur, a journalist with the satellite TV station KNN, said KNN cameraman Rahman Nariman was attacked in Kalar by members of the security forces of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), one of the two main parties that form the coalition government. His camera was taken and shots were fired at him.

- Hemn Karim, the editor of Fshar, and Salman Kochari, a reporter for Standard Magazine, told Reporters Without Borders they had received death threats.

* 26 February, a series of incidents, above all at Kalar (100 km south of Sulaymaniyah)

- Garmiyani Hamay Pur, a KNN journalist based in Kalar, told Reporters Without Borders that the security forces banned him from filming. “I was told that the security forces had been ordered to hit journalists who covered the demonstrations. As a result, now only the partisan media can film during marches.

- Kawa Garmiyani, a reporter for the newspaper Awene, was physically attacked by masked gunmen who seized his camera and recorder while covering clashes between police and demonstrators earlier in the day in Kalar.

- Speda TV journalist Sarkawt Salam and a photographer, Sangar Hamid, were attacked by gunmen. “We were attacked without any reason while covering the demonstration,” Salam told Reporters Without Borders.

- Hawlati reporter Soran Ahmed was accosted in Sulaymaniyah by members of the counter-terrorist forces led by Pavel Talabani, the son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who heads the other main ruling party in Kurdistan, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). “They confiscated my camera and mobile phone,” he told Reporters Without Borders. “They also took my press card and the card issued by the Union of Journalists.”

- Irfan Ahmed, Anwar Arab, Salam Haji and Nasih Abdulrahim were arrested by security forces while covering a demonstration in Halabja (80 km east of Sulaymaniyah). They were taken to the mayor’s office and were released an hour and a half later.

- Freelance journalist and writer Soran Omar said he had received many threatening SMS messages from different phone numbers after giving an interview on the TV station Payam. “I think even Sulaymaniyah is not a place for independent journalists,” he told Reporters Without Borders. He requested protection from the authorities and contacted the mobile phone company Asia Cell to request the identity of the owners of the SIM cards from which the threats were sent.

- Bestun Jallayi, the Speda TV bureau chief in Kalar, said he received a threatening SMS message in the evening. “Wait for death’s flood,” the SMS said.

- Someone hacked into the Facebook pages of two influential writers and intellectuals, Mariwan Wrya Qani and Aras Fatah, after they voiced support for the demonstrations. The Kurdistanpost.info news website was also blocked.

*25 February, many journalists report receiving death threats

- Niyaz Abdulla, an Erbil-based reporter for Radio Nawa, told Reporters Without Borders she was threatened by security forces while outside the Erbil governorate’s headquarters to cover a demonstration by young people in support of the Sulaymaniyah demonstrators. KDP supporters insulted her and threatened her with violence. When she left, she was followed by plainclothes officers until she found a taxi.

Nowadays there is no point filing a complaint against the security forces,” she said. She also said that security forces confiscated a camera from a journalist working for the newspaper Rudaw.

- Latif Fatih Faraj, a journalist with PUK links who heads the Journalists Union in Kirkuk said: “I had just returned home after taking part in a live KNN programme on the demonstrations in Sulaymaniyah and other cities when I got a phone call. Describing himself as an important politician, the caller said he was going to kill me for criticising the KDP, which is led by Massoud Barzani, the autonomous Kurdistan region’s president. His number? 0770 39 705 98.

The head of the KDP in Kirkuk denied that his party could be responsible for such threats. “So I called the PUK, the Asayesh and the police,” Faraj added. “The police offered to put me under the protection of bodyguards but I refused. My brothers and cousins are with me, to protect me if anything happens to me.”

- Members of a group of journalists based in Erbil were threatened after expressing support for the demonstrations in Sulaymaniyah. One of them, writer and political analyst Salah Mazen, wrote on Facebook: “Someone called me last night and clearly advised me not to participate in the demonstrations organized in Erbil. He said if I wanted to demonstrate, I should just go to Sulaymaniyah. He said, word for word: ‘If you value your life and love your children, stay quietly at home or leave Erbil for Sulaymaniyah.’”

- Shawqi Kanabi, the head of the KNN bureau in Erbil, told Reporters Without Borders he had been warned that the station’s bureau could be attacked if it filmed the demonstrations in Erbil.

- Freelance journalist Barzan Ali Hama was forced to leave Erbil after organizing a petition signed by a number of journalists that urged the region’s parliament to find a solution to the current crisis and to ensure that those responsible for shooting on demonstrators were brought to justice. Several of the signatories, who asked not to be identified, withdrew their support after receiving threats from KDP supporters.

- Kaywan Hawrani, a freelance journalist based in Halabja, has also had to flee. One of his friends said: “Kaywan was one of the organizers of the 23 February demonstration in Halabja during which a policeman was injured. Soon after the demonstration, the police began to arrest the organizers. Kaywan fled the town. The police are looking for him.”

- Meanwhile, a representative of the opposition party Goran said during a special parliamentary session on 23 February that six Peshmergas [Kurdish fighters] who were responsible for the arson attack on the privately-owned TV station NRT on 20 February were currently hospitalised because of the burns they sustained during the attack.

We now know the people who were responsible for this attack but we have obtained no clear response from the interior ministry and intelligence services.” He said. According some rumours, two of the Peshmergas involved were sent to Turkey for treatment because of the gravity of their burns.

* Incidents already mentioned in a previous release

* 21 February

- Ageed Saleem, an NRT reporter in Duhok, said he was threatened by a leading KDP member.

* 20 February

- Criminal raid of Naliya Radio and Television (NRT), a new satellite TV station based in Sulaymaniyah.

- KNN reporter Bryar Namiq was badly injured by police and members of the Asayesh.

- KURDIU reporter Balen Othman was attacked and his camera was destroyed.

- Goran Othman, a journalist with the Islamic Group news website, was attacked.

- Shaswar Mama, an NRT reporter in Raniya, was accosted by members of the security forces.

- KURDIU reporter Mukhlis Ahmed was attacked in Raniya.
- Following its coverage of the previous day’s events in Sulaymaniyah, staff at the newspaper Hawlati received a threatening phone call saying they should evacuate their Erbil office.

* 19 February
Police prevented many journalists from covering protests at the University of Sulaymaniyah.

- Asayesh beat Hawlati reporter Ara Ibrahim using batons.

- Police attacked a KNN TV crew.

- Aras Muhammad, the head of Arasta magazine and Sound Radio, was injured by members of the Asayesh.

- Hardi Salami, a reporter for the satellite TV station Gali Kurdistani, sustained a leg injury.

- Payam reporter Wrya Ahmed sustained injuries to the hands and legs when he was attacked by police.

- The Sulaymaniyah security committee also demanded university academic and intellectual Faruq Rafeeq’s arrest after he said, while taking part in a demonstration in Sulaymaniyah on 17 February: “Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, should apologize for the incidents and deaths caused by members of his party. Those who fired the fatal shots and those who gave them their orders should be arrested and brought to justice. And finally, the Peshmergas should leave the city.

* 18 February

- Lutfi Doski, a Duhok-based KNN reporter, was prevented from filming the premises of the Gorran party in Duhok.

- An NRT team was prevented from filming demonstrations.

- Reporters for the newspaper Chatr were forced to delete the photos they had taken of the demonstrations.

- Reporters for the newspaper Hawlati were prevented from filming incidents taking place in Sulaymaniyah.

* 17 February

- Radio Gorran was prevented from broadcasting.

- Police prevented KNN reporters from filming the incidents.

- Shwan Muhammad, the editor of the newspaper Awene, was insulted by Peshmergas.

- Rahman Gharib, the head of the press freedom organization METRO and a reporter for Sumariya News, was attacked.

- KNN programme director Namo Namiq was detained for several hours.

- Radio Nawa reporter Bilal Muhammad was attacked and prevented from covering the incidents.

- Saman Majed and Bwar Jalal, reporters for the PUK’s satellite TV station Gali Kurdistan, were attacked.

- Sherko Salayi, a reporter for CNN in Arabic, was attacked.

- Hemin Abdul Latif, reporter for the Destur news website, was badly injured while photographing demonstrators attacking the local headquarters of the KDP.

- The Erbil headquarters of the KNN TV and radio station were set on fire.

- Ari Muhammad, a photographer with the Metrography agency, was injured.

Thousands march for Kurdish language rights

Tens of thousands of Kurds held a huge demonstration to mark UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day in Diyarbakır. Kurds also demonstrated in other cities across the region including Hakkari and Van. Marches were held in Europe as well.

Taking the lead in yesterday’s demonstration was the organisation Tevgera Ziman û Perwerdahiya Kurdî (TZPKurdî, Kurdish Language and Education Movement in English). The head of the BDP’s (Democratic Society Party) local organisation M. Ali Aydın, KURDİ-DER’s director Burhan Zorooğlu and BDP deputy Hamit Geylani were the key speakers and addressed the placard-carrying crowd of thousands.

Several months ago, TZPKurdî began a campaign called ‘Read, Speak, Write in Kurdish Everywhere’, launched against the prohibition of the Kurdish language in certain spheres in Turkey.

TZPKurdî has suggested three measures to resist the repression of Kurdish in Turkey: 1) to promote the Kurdish language in education, 2) to speak the language in private as well as in public venues and 3) to speak it at all political events. Currently, the use of Kurdish in the political arena is forbidden according to the Law on Political Parties.

Dressed in Kurdish national clothes Kurdish women also participated in the demonstration and called on the Turkish government to stop all restrictions on the use of Kurdish language. Demonstrators held banners reading ‘without mother language there is no life.’

KURDİ-DER’s Rifat Öztürk read the joint statement of the NGOs and institutions supporting the demonstration.

Öztürk said there is an ongoing denial of Kurdish language since the creation of Turkish Republic about 80 years ago. He criticised Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s approach to the Kurdish question and his defence of the motto of the Turkish state: ‘One Language, One Nation.’

He mentioned Erdoğan’s statement about cultural rights of Turkish immigrants in Germany where he labelled assimilation a ‘crime against humanity’ and called on the Turkish government to recognise the linguistic rights of Kurdish people in Turkey.

Öztürk also called on the Turkish courts to recognise the rights of Kurdish politicians whose requests to defend themselves in Kurdish have been routinely denied. When spoken in court, Kurdish is often referred to by the presiding judges as an ‘unknown’ language.

‘Like all the other nations and communities mother language is sacred and one of the basic values of the society for the Kurdish people,’ Öztürk said.

BDP deputy Hamit Geylani also made a speech saying that the trial of Kurdish politicians in Diyarbakır is a trial where the Kurdish language is being tried. ‘There will be no freedom until or language is free,’ he said, and added that ‘the struggle of Kurdish people for their language will go on.’

Amnesty International (AI) has now recognised Kurdish and will began to use it on its website. AI signed a protocol with the KURDİ-DER Batman (Elîh) branch in order to translate all written documents into Kurdish for one year.

In February 2009, Ahmet Türk, then head of the now defunct DTP, spoke Kurdish in the Turkish parliament to honour International Mother Language Day. TRT quickly cut the live broadcast.

To learn more about the issue of mother-tongue education in Kurdish, read Kurdistan Commentary’s essay on the subject here:

All photos below of the demonstrations are from the website Yüksekova Haber.

Sources:

Tens of thousands marked International Mother Language Day. Firat News Agency, 21 February 2011.

Kurdish people in Europe step up Mother Language Campaign. Firat News Agency, 21 February 2011.

Who’s mad as hell? Anyone? Kurdistan Commentary, 16 November 2010.

DTP Leader speaks Kurdish in Parliament. Kurdistan Commentary, 24 February 2009.

Armed attack on Nalia (NRT) TV; station destroyed by fire

Nalia (NRT) office building after the attack.

At 2.30am today (20 February), approximately 50 armed men raided the privately-owned Nalia Radio & TV (NRT) station in Slêmanî, located in a gated community called ‘German Village.’ The attackers opened fire on the station’s guards, injuring one before entering the three-story building. The gunmen then fired on Nalia’s broadcasting equipment and torched the building, destroying everything inside.

NRT is the Kurdistan region’s first private, independent television station. It opened just three days before the attack. It was the only station to air footage of shots fired at demonstrators on the first day of the protests, according to an NRT statement.

The owner of the station, Shaswar Abdulwahid, says that he had received a number of threats from senior politicians in the city and was asked to stop broadcasting. NRT reported the threats and later he was reassured by many, including the KRG PM, Barham Salih, and PUK deputy secretary-general, Kosrat Rasul, not to worry and to continue broadcasting.

According to Twana Osman, the General Manager of NRT, the ‘attack is not only against NRT. It is a crime against the general public of Kurdistan and their right to know exactly what is happening.’ He added that this is ‘a dangerous attempt to hide the truth, keep the public ignorant and obstruct and intimidate independent media.’

The regionally-based Metro Centre to Defend Journalists said of the attack, “[t]his is a dark day for journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan. We condemn the vicious attack on Nalia TV. It seems the attack had been planned, given that the gunmen fired on all of the station’s broadcasting equipment and then set the building on fire. We call for an independent committee to be formed to investigate the incident and bring those responsible to justice.’

Gutted interior of Nalia (NRT) TV station

Hiwa Osman from the Institute for War & Peace Reporting says that the ‘destruction of the station comes at a time when all the other satellite TV channels are unable to provide a balanced coverage’ of the ongoing demonstrations in Slêmanî and other cities.

At least one of the gunmen was wounded, as bloodstains and a trail of blood were left behind at the scene.

Nalia has vowed to resume broadcasting as quickly as possible.

Summary of Kurdish issues from 2011 World Report (HRW)

Human Rights Watch released its 2011 World Report last week. The 638-page report emphasises ‘the failure of the expected champions of human rights to respond to the problem, defend those people and organizations struggling for human rights, and stand up firmly against abusive governments.’

Kurdistan Commentary has highlighted noteworthy points from those sections reflecting the situation of the Kurds in the four country chapters mentioned in HRW’s World Report: Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

The chapter on Iran has little on the Kurds except for the mention of the executions of Kurdish activists. The Iraq chapter discusses gender-based rights issues and failures to uphold freedoms of expression. The chapter on Syria highlights the Syrian regime’s continued persecution of members of Kurdish political parties and the general repression of Kurdish cultural expression. Finally, the Turkey chapter examines the use of anti-terror laws, the PKK, restrictions on freedom of expression and the KCK trial of Kurdish politicians.

The report’s introduction mentions that the report is not comprehensive. The fact that certain issues are not included ‘often reflects no more than staffing limitations and should not be taken as commentary on the significance of the problem. There are many serious human rights violations that Human Rights Watch simply lacks the capacity to address.’

IRAN
In October 2010 the UN secretary-general’s office released its report on the situation of human rights in Iran, pursuant to UN General Assembly resolution 64/176. The report noted ‘further negative developments in the human rights situation’ in Iran, including ‘excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests, and detentions, unfair trials, and possible torture and ill-treatment of opposition activists’ following the June 2009 election.

Evin Prison

Reports by international human rights groups indicate that prison authorities are systematically denying needed medical care to political prisoners at Tehran’s Evin Prison and other facilities.

The government systematically blocks websites that carry political news and analysis, slows down Internet speeds, jams foreign satellite broadcasts, and employs the Revolutionary Guards to target dissident websites.

In 2009, the last year for which figures are available, authorities executed 388 prisoners, more than any other nation except China. Iranian human rights defenders believe that many more executions, especially of individuals convicted of drug trafficking, are taking place in Iran’s prisons today.

Authorities have executed at least nine political dissidents since November 2009, all of them convicted of moharebeh (enmity against God) for their alleged ties to armed groups.

Among those executed are Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heidarian, Farhad Vakili, Shirin Alam Holi, and Mehdi Eslamian by hanging on the morning of 09 May 2010 in Evin prison without informing their lawyers or families. Another 16 Kurds presently face execution for their alleged support of armed groups, notably PJAK.

The government restricts cultural and political activities among the country’s Azeri, Kurdish, and Arab minorities, including the organisations that focus on social issues. The Kurds make up Iran’s second largest minority group.

IRAQ
The parts of this chapter that focus on the Kurdish north relate to issues of gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation, which the report states ‘is practiced mainly in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq.’

Kurdish midwife, from WP report by Andrea Bruce 'Female Circumcision in Kurdistan'

In November the Ministry of Health completed a statistical study on the prevalence of FGM and the data suggests that 41 percent of Kurdish girls and women have undergone this procedure. On 06 July 2010, the High Committee for Issuing Fatwas at the Kurdistan Islamic Scholars Union—the highest Muslim authority in Iraqi Kurdistan to issue religious pronouncements and rulings—issued a religious edict that said Islam does not prescribe the practice, but stopped short of calling for an outright ban. At this writing the women’s rights committee of the Kurdistan parliament had finalized a draft law on family violence, including provisions on FGM, and the Ministry of Health announced plans to disseminate information on the practice’s negative health consequences. But the government has not yet banned FGM or created a comprehensive plan to eradicate it.

Journalists in Iraq also contended with emboldened Iraqi and Kurdish security forces and their respective image-conscious central and regional governments. On 04 May, assailants abducted, tortured, and killed Sardasht Osman, a 23-year-old freelance journalist and student in Erbil. Friends, family, and other journalists believed Osman died because he wrote critical articles about the Kurdistan region’s two governing parties, their leaders, and the ingrained patronage system. Security forces attached to government institutions and political parties harassed, intimidated, threatened, arrested, and physically assaulted journalists. Senior politicians sued publications and journalists for unflattering articles.

Minorities remained in a precarious position as the Arab-dominated central government and the Kurdistan regional government struggled over control of disputed territories running across northern Iraq from the Iranian to the Syrian borders. Leaders of minority communities complained that Kurdish security forces engaged in arbitrary detentions, intimidation, and in some cases low-level violence, against those who challenged Kurdish control of the disputed territories. In other parts of Iraq, minorities have not received sufficient government protection from targeted violence, threats, and intimidation. Perpetrators are rarely identified, investigated, or punished.

SYRIA
There was no significant change in Syrian human rights policy and practice in 2010. Authorities continued to broadly violate the civil and political rights of citizens, arresting political and human rights activists, censoring websites, detaining bloggers, and imposing travel bans.

Emergency rule, imposed in 1963, remains in effect and Syria’s multiple security agencies continue to detain people without arrest warrants, holding them incommunicado for lengthy periods. The Supreme State Security Court (SSSC), an exceptional court with almost no procedural guarantees, regularly sentences Kurdish activists and Islamists to long prison terms.

Twelve leaders of the Damascus Declaration, a prominent gathering of opposition groups including Kurdish political parties, finished serving 30-month prison terms imposed in October 2008 for ‘weakening national sentiment.’

The SSSC sentenced dozens of Kurdish political activists to prison in 2010, including many members of the PYD political party, which is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). In April the SSSC sentenced four members of the Kurdish Yekîtî Party (Yasha Wader, Dilghesh Mamo, Ahmad Darwish, and Nazmi Mohammad) to five years in prison on the charge of undertaking acts ‘to cut off part of Syrian land.’ Three other prominent Yekîtî members (Hassan Saleh, Muhammad Mustapha, and Maruf Mulla Ahmad) face the same charges in their ongoing trial before the SSSC.

In June a military judge sentenced Mahmud Safo, a member of the Kurdish Left Party, to one year in prison for ‘inciting sectarian strife’ and membership in an unlicenced organisation.

Syria’s press law provides the government with sweeping control over publications. The government has extended this control to online outlets. Internet censorship of political websites is pervasive and includes popular websites such as Blogger (Google’s blogging engine), Facebook, and YouTube.

In March Military Intelligence in Aleppo detained Abdel Hafez Abdel Rahman, a board member of the unlicenced Kurdish human rights group MAF (‘Right’ in Kurdish), and along with another MAF board member, Nadera Abdo. The security services released Abdo and referred Abdel Rahman to trial on charges of ‘undertaking acts to cut off part of Syrian land.’ A military judge released him on bail on 01 September. His trial was ongoing at the time this report was published.

Pir Rostom

In April authorities released on bail Ahmed Mustafa Ben Mohammad (known as Pir Rostom), a Kurdish political activist and writer, whom they detained in November 2009 for articles he wrote online.

The government continues to prevent activists from traveling abroad, including Radeef Mustapha, head of the Kurdish Human Rights Committee.

All Syrian human rights groups remain unlicenced, as officials consistently deny their requests for registration.

Syria’s multiple security services continue to detain people without arrest warrants and frequently refuse to disclose their whereabouts for weeks and sometimes months, in effect forcibly disappearing them. The authorities have also kept silent about the fate of at least 20 Kurds detained since 2008 on suspicion of ties to a separatist Kurdish movement.

Authorities suppress expressions of Kurdish identity and prohibit the teaching of Kurdish in schools. In March 2010, security forces shot at Kurds celebrating the Kurdish New Year in the northern town of Raqqa to disperse them, killing at least one. In July a military court sentenced nine Kurds alleged to have participated in the celebrations in Raqqa to four months for ‘inciting sectarian strife.’

The report does not mention the many cases of arrest and torture of those Kurds who were forcibly returned to Syria from Europe.

TURKEY
The government made little concrete progress towards realising its 2009 plan to improve the human rights of Kurds in Turkey. The Constitutional Court in December 2009 closed down the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) for alleged separatist activities, and hundreds of officials from the DTP and its successor, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), faced trial for membership of the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK), a body connected with PKK.

There is increasing agreement across the political spectrum on the need for a rights-based and non-military approach to ending the conflict with the PKK. Armed clashes between the Turkish military and the PKK continued.

Journalists and editors remained targets for prosecution. Legitimate news reporting on trials was deemed ‘attempting to influence a judicial process,’ reporting on criminal investigations was judged as ‘violating the secrecy of a criminal investigation,’ and news reports on the PKK was deemed ‘terrorist propaganda.’

Vedat Kurşun

Some editors and journalists faced scores of ongoing legal proceedings in 2010. The case of Vedat Kurşun stands out among those convicted in 2010. The editor of Kurdish daily Azadiya Welat, Kurşun received a 166-year prison sentence in May for 103 counts of ‘terrorist propaganda’ and ‘membership’ in the PKK. At this writing he remained in prison pending an appeal.

Courts continued to use terrorism laws to prosecute hundreds of demonstrators deemed to be PKK supporters as if they were the group’s armed militants. Most spent prolonged periods in pre-trial detention, and those convicted received long prison sentences. A legal amendment by parliament in July will mean that convictions of children under the laws will be quashed. The laws remain otherwise unchanged.

Hundreds of officials and activist members of the pro-Kurdish party DTP and its successor BDP (which has 20 parliamentary members) were prosecuted during the year, including for links to the KCK.

In October seven mayors, several lawyers, and a human rights defender were among 151 officials and activists tried in Diyarbakır for alleged separatism and KCK membership. At the time of the writing of this report, the mayors had spent 10 months-and the 53 other defendants 18 months-in pre-trial detention, while around 1,000 DTP/BDP officials and members suspected of KCK affiliation were in pre-trial detention nationwide, raising concerns about the right to political participation.

Muharrem Erbey, vice-president of the Human Rights Association (HRA) and chair of its Diyarbakır branch, was arrested in December 2009 for alleged KCK membership and held in detention until his trial in October. Vetha Aydin, chair of HRA’s Siirt branch, was arrested in March for alleged KCK membership.

Download complete country chapters here (in .pdf):

Iran

Iraq

Syria

Turkey

Özgür Ülke: the story behind the bombings

An article appeared a couple days ago in ANF, Özgür Ülke: the bombing of a Kurdish newspaper 16 years ago, that touches upon an important era in the history of the Kurdish press in Turkey. The article though did not give any context to the tragic ‘black’ years of the early 90s for Kurdish journalists and journalism, nor does it relate the importance of this and other newspapers to the development of the Kurdish press. This background information is crucial to really appreciate the story of Özgür Ülke.

In the early morning hours of Saturday, 03 December 1994 three synchronised explosions rocked the main office and printing house of the daily Özgür Ülke in Istanbul, as well as the paper’s office in Ankara.

Shortly before 3am an explosion ripped through the daily’s printing house in the Cağaloğlu neighbourhood of the Eminönü district in Istanbul, causing extensive damage. The Eminönü district is home to many publishing houses. Half an hour later, an explosive device, perhaps an explosive-laden truck, detonated on the ground floor of the daily’s main office in Kumkapı in the Fatih district of Istanbul. The four-story building was gutted. All told, one person was killed and 23 were injured. Ersin Yildiz, the lone fatality, died on the way to hospital.

Meanwhile, an explosion rocked the Özgür Ülke office on Menekse Street in Ankara causing extensive damage. There were no casualties at the Ankrara office.

Interior Minister Nahit Mentese said that the reason for the bombings of the Özgür Ülke offices in Istanbul and Ankara might be provocation or a dispute among its various factions. He added that every possible angle was being investigated.

However, others had different ideas as to who bombed the Özgür Ülke offices. The newspaper blamed the state for the coordinated explosions. Mehmet Cifti, Ankara representative of Özgür Ülke claimed that the attacks on the newspaper, which had recently come under increased police harassment, were an attempt to ‘silence’ the paper for defending Kurdish rights. He claimed the decision to attack the offices had been taken during Turkey’s military-dominated National Security Council meeting three days prior to the attacks. Both the Turkish Chief of General Staff and the Interior Minister are on record saying ‘Özgür Ülke should be stopped.’

The editor-in-chief, Baki Karadeniz, said that it was obvious who the perpetrators were, adding: ‘These attacks will not silence us. Our newspaper will be published tomorrow and the days after that…’

And it was published the next day with the headline ‘Bu ateş, sizi de yakar’ (This fire will burn you too).

On 19 December 1994, the paper published an article under the banner headline: ‘[former Turkish PM] Çiller Gave the Orders To Bomb the Paper.’ The Prime Minister’s Office Press Centre issued a statement saying that ‘the newspaper in question is misleading the citizens and the world. Freedom of the press is guaranteed by the constitution and the law in Turkey, which is a democratic state of law.’ The statement went on to say that ‘the Turkish Republican Government considers freedom of the press as sacred as other rights and freedoms and values it as such.’

Replying to reporters’ questions in Ankara after the attack, Interior Minister Mentese said that even insinuating state involvement in these attacks directed against human lives and property was unthinkable. He added that the state had always tried to ensure the prevalence of the laws. In reply to a question on whether it was a coincidence that the bombings took place soon after the PKK called for a cease-fire, Mentese said that every possibility was being taken into consideration.

Prior to the bombings…

Turkish PM Yıldırım Akbulut announced in 1990: ‘We have decided to answer guns with guns,’ and with that new restrictions were placed on the reporting of the conflict in the southeast; all news reports would have to be ‘coordinated’ with the Interior Ministry, and publishers would be liable for hefty fines and immediate closure upon conviction of printing any material considered to ‘pose a threat to the rule of law.’

The restrictions stemmed from a Council of Ministers order, Decree 413, which equipped the regional governor in southeastern Turkey with extraordinary powers, among them, to censor the press. Following this and other decrees issued later that month, an almost complete censorship was imposed on news from southeastern Turkey. Most news from that region was then based solely on information released by the regional governor’s office. Journalists who tried to cover Kurdish issues or investigate allegations of abuse on the part of security forces ran a serious risk of criminal charges and prison sentences. Some were expelled from towns in the region.

These were the first shots to be fired in a new war against the Kurdish press, which was to escalate into a barrage of assassinations, arson, judicial persecution and confiscations.

Widespread attacks on journalists working for left-wing and pro-Kurdish newspapers began in 1992. These assaults and murders, which continued and escalated over several years, must be seen in the light of the state’s tight control on the expression of unorthodox views, and particularly of any material which was seen as ‘subversive.’

Article 8 of the newly-implemented Anti-Terror Law of 12 April 1991 armed the state with a handy weapon against the pro-Kurdish press. A catch-all provision said that: ‘No written or verbal propaganda, meeting, demonstration and march, which targets the indivisible unity of the people and country of the Turkish Republic, for whatever thought or aim, are allowed.’ Article 8 was used against any manifestation of Kurdish identity, illustrated most starkly by the experience of the pro-Kurdish press.

Up to the end of 1992, 48 confiscation orders or lawsuits were filed by State Security Court prosecutors based on 114 issues of the weekly newspaper Yeni Ülke, which first appeared in October 1990. Start up funding for Yeni Ülke was provided by the PKK and was enthusiastically backed by Kurdish activists.

The monthly magazine Özgür Halk started publication in November 1990 and lasted for 27 issues. During that period, 15 issues were confiscated and lawsuits were filed against 22 issues. Eight employees of the paper were arrested and tortured; the Diyarbakır office was bombed; the Diyarbakır representative Huseyin Ebem was given a 26-month prison sentence and a 45 million TL fine for ‘making propaganda against the indivisible integrity of the state’, and two of the paper’s representatives were murdered.

The daily paper Özgür Gündem paid the heaviest penalty for the right to publish during this phase of the state’s operations against the press. Between 31 May 1992, when it was launched, and 15 January 1993, when it was forced to stop publication, confiscation orders were issued against 39 issues; fines amounting to billions of TL were imposed on the management; seven correspondents and distributors of the paper were murdered; 55 correspondents were arrested, and three of them were severely tortured; employees’ homes and the paper’s offices were repeatedly raided by the police, and property used by the paper was subjected to regular arson attacks.

Özgür Gündem, which typically published interviews with Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK, and frequently printed statements by the PKK, was regarded by most Turks as the mouthpiece of the outlawed organisation. Öcalan also had a weekly column in the paper using the pen name Ali Firat. The papers’ reporters were constantly stopped by police, and distribution of the paper was obstructed by security forces in the southeast.

Turkish officials refuting claims of harrassment of the paper say the state has nothing to fear from a newspaper whose circulation is a mere 12,000. Other reports estimated circulation anywhere from 15,000 to 50,000.

The year 1993 began with the closure of the newspaper on 15 January, driven out of business by harassment, confiscations, raids, arrests, and violence. On 26 April 1993, Özgür Gündem was publishing again, after merging with another paper that had also been relentlessly persecuted, Yeni Ülke. But that did not last for long. Throughout the following 7 months, the paper suffered a crescendo of attacks, both physical and legal. By July, the publishers and editors had been fined a total of 8.6 billion TL ($736,500 at that time) and sentenced to prison terms totalling 155 to 493 years. By the end of November 1993, there were 170 further cases outstanding against the paper, including an action to close the paper on the grounds that ‘the chief editor Davut Karadag did not communicate his new address to the Istanbul Governorate.’

The main charges against the paper were ‘making separatist propaganda’ and ‘praising the PKK’ contrary to Articles 7 and 8 of the Anti-Terror Law. These were due to be heard before the State Security Tribunal, a special court designated under Article 143 of the Turkish Constitution to hear ‘offences against the indivisible integrity of the state…,’ on 21 September 1993. On that date, however, the proprietor Yasar Kaya was unable to appear, because he was in custody on another charge.

On 10 December 1993, International Human Rights Day, 200 police raided the paper’s offices in Istanbul, arresting 100 employees and seizing equipment. In simultaneous raids on all the other offices of the paper except Ankara, another 50 were taken into custody.

By the end of 1993, six of the paper’s journalists and 14 other staff members had been killed, one journalist, Burhan Karadeniz had been shot by unidentified gunmen and paralysed for life, and one journalist had disappeared.

On 14 April 1994 Özgür Gündem was shut down temporarily, in the first of 200 such cases to come to the Supreme Court. On 27 April, the owners of the paper decided to cease operations, and a new title, Özgür Ülke, was launched. But on 14 June 1994, the editor, deputy editor and 11 journalists from the defunct title were put on trial in Istanbul. The editor, Ms Gurbeteli Ersöz and four others were charged with membership of an illegal organisation, the remainder with ‘separatist propaganda.’

Özgür Ülke fared no better than its predecessor, Özgür Gündem, and two months after the bombings, on 03 February 1995, Özgür Ülke was closed down altogether when a court ruled that it was subject to the same ban as Özgür Gündem. When yet another paper representing a Kurdish viewpoint, Yeni Politika, was planned, its premises were raided before even the first issue appeared in April, six of its journalists were detained, and the inaugural issue was confiscated for containing ‘separatist propaganda.’

This was all taking place around the same time the Turkish military was carrying out a ‘scorched earth’ policy in the southeast, with roughly 2,000 Kurdish villages erased from the map, and two million Kurds driven from their homes. The villages were forcibly evacuated and later burned or partly destroyed. Nearly 300,000 troops—more than half of Turkey’s armed forces at that time—were stationed in the region.

There were also attacks on Kurdish political parties. In the spring of 1990 the Peoples’ Labour Party (Halkın Emek Partisi, HEP) was formed. It tried to articulate Kurdish identity as far as it could without running into trouble with the vaguely worded Anti-Terror Law. The party was threatened with closure at the behest of State Security Court Chief Prosecutor Nusret Demiral, for making ‘separatist propaganda’ and it was eventually banned in July 1993.

The Democracy Party (Demokrasi Partisi, DEP) was founded in May of 1993 by members of the HEP as a successor party in anticipation of the ban. In March 1994, the Turkish Grand National Assembly withdrew the immunity of the Kurdish MPs in the DEP.

Six of the MPs, Hatip Dicle, Leyla Zana, Orhan Doğan, Sirri Sakik, Ahmet Türk and Mahmut Alınak, were arrested on the withdrawal of their immunity.

The DEP was dissolved by the Constitutional Court on 16 June 1994. On 08 December 1994, five days after the bombing of the offices of Özgür Ülke, Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Ahmet Türk, Orhan Doğan and Selim Sadak were found guilty under Article 168 (2) of the Turkish Penal Code of membership of an illegal armed organisation, and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. Sedat Yurtdaş was found guilty under Article 169 of having provided support to an armed organisation and given 7 years six months imprisonment. Mahmut Alınak and Sirri Sakik were found guilty under Article 8 (1) of the Anti-Terror Law of having engaged in separatist propaganda and were sentenced to 3 years six months, plus a fine of 70 million TL, but released on bail.

Aliza Marcus, in her book Blood and Belief, says that ‘[t]here is no question that Kurds gained from the opportunities created when the PKK, starting in the early 1990s, carved out or otherwise gave backing to new, legal Kurdish institutions and publications. A whole generation of journalists developed in Özgür Gündem and its related newspapers, and for the first time, Kurds could read news of direct relevance to their lives.’

Sources:

TRT TV. ‘Interior minister denies state involvement in Özgür Ülke bombings’ as reported in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts (6 December 1994); LexisNexis.

TRT TV. ‘Explosions at offices of pro-Kurdish paper’ as reported in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts (5 December 1994); LexisNexis.

Human Rights Watch World Report 1990 – Turkey

Avebury, Eric. Turkey’s Kurdish Policy in the Nineties. Paper presented at the Middle East Studies Association meeting in Washington, DC, December 1995. Accessed at American Kurdish Information Network.

Fraser, Suzan. Pro-Kurdish paper blames state for bombings. Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 03 December 1994.

Kanal-6 TV. ‘Paper’s editor vows to keep publishing’ as reported in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts (5 December 1994); LexisNexis.

TRT TV. ‘Çiller denies issuing order to bomb newspaper’ as reported in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts (23 December 1994); LexisNexis.

Marcus, Aliza (2007). Blood and Belief: The PKK and the Kurdish fight for independence. New York University Press.

Between Freedom and Abuses: The Media Paradox in Iraqi Kurdistan

Reporters Without Borders, Mission Report
November 2010

Reporters Without Borders is an international organisation, registered in France as a non-profit, and has consultant status at the United Nations. It has been fighting for press freedom on a daily basis since it was founded in 1985.

In one of their latest reports, Between Freedom and Abuses: The Media Paradox in Iraqi Kurdistan, they delve into the tense relationships that exist between the government and journalists. All of the country’s actors and international observers agree that remarkable progress has been made in the last ten years, from an economic and political, as well as institutional viewpoint. However, there remains a profound lack of understanding between authorities and media professionals, as neither camp seems to accept the role of, or necessity for, the other.

In the past few years, the number of media outlets in Iraqi Kurdistan has literally exploded. In this region of 83,000km2, there are over 850 media outlets (including 415 newspapers and magazines). 5,000 journalists are registered with the KJS.  This boom can be explained in part by the relative ease with which groups can open new media outlets. Authorisation is routinely granted to those wishing to obtain a print media licence.

With virtually all media in Kurdish, Kurdishness is the core of the region’s media identity. In addition to the language, most news coverage is devoted to Kurdish issues.

Most independent media groups are currently headquartered in Silêmanî, which the report refers to as the ‘rebellious and cultural city par excellence of the region.’

Nearly all of Iraqi Kurdistan’s media outlets are partisan, affiliated with one political party or another. Some media groups have taken on the role of de facto opposition parties, and become involved as political actors. Hoshyar Abdulah Fatah, Editor-in-Chief of the Kurdish News Network (KNN) Channel, confirmed that ‘in the absence of genuine political opposition, this role is played by the media, even though it should only be a counter-force. It is important that the media ultimately play its rightful role—that of a fourth power.’

Much of the current situation is better understood by looking into the history of media in the region. Until the 1991 uprising, ‘media outlets’ in Iraqi Kurdistan were instruments of political propaganda used by resistance movements and the armed struggle. Forced to operate clandestinely, they played a role in the movement’s internal organisation, informing militants about resistance activities and promoting their allegiances. These outlets also had an external purpose: to counteract the messages publicised by Saddam Hussein’s regime. An example of such media is Baray Kurdistani (Kurdistan Front), which was founded in the mountains in 1988.

After 1991, all of the region’s political parties continued to have their own media organisations, including local TV stations. In 1992, a press law was introduced. Following the May elections, a gradual de facto polarisation of the media occurred in this region. In that same year, the PUK launched its daily Kurdistani Nwe (New Kurdistan) and its TV station Kurdistan People TV. For its part, the KDP resumed publishing its daily Brayati (Brotherhood). In November, other newspapers appeared such as Harem (Region). Some Kurdish intellectuals, among them Bakhtyar Ali, Mariwan Qani’, Aras Fataha, Ismail Hama Amin, also launched a magazine called Azadi (Freedom), deemed critical of the state.

In 1994, some left-wing intellectuals created the weekly newspaper Amro (Today), which was considered non-partisan. They were soon forced to cease their activities, the tone of their newspaper having been judged too critical. Interviewed by Reporters Without Borders, Asos Hardi, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Awene and founder of the newspaper, went so far as to state that ‘it was simply impossible to publish something that was not in line.’

It was in this context that Tariq Fatih, who then owned Ranj Press, launched the newspaper Hawlati early in 2000. He surrounded himself with several independent writers and authors living in Kurdistan (mainly Silêmanî) or abroad.

Among them were Asos Hardi, Rebwar Siwayli (a lecturer at Salahaddin University), Kamal Rauf, Shwan Mohammad, Adnan Othman, Sardar Aziz, and Mariwan Qani’.  Said  Hardi:

We felt that we needed to create such a media in order to be free to publish what we wanted, and to build a sort of bridge between the two administrations. We applied for the permit. No one wanted to display their hostility to this project. They thought that we would not make it financially. Some were also betting on internal strife, others that we would fall into the grip of a political party we would have joined. None of that happened. We managed to stay together, despite our differences of opinion.

In 2003, the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime marked a turning point for the Kurds’ political history and for their media. ‘The censorship which was prevailing under Saddam Hussein disappeared, paving the way for an era of freedom conducive to the emergence of unlimited media,’ stated Farhad Awni, President of the Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate (KJS).

Barham Salih, PM of KRG: I want a free press, but the current situation is tantamount to anarchy, and that could be used against press freedom. What is necessary is to regulate the current system.

The KJS formed in 2003 as a result of a merger between two journalist syndicates: the Journalists Syndicate in Silêmanî and the Press Syndicate in Hewlêr.

RWB, after extensive interviews, devised the media of the region into four categories:

Group 1: Media groups directly affiliated with the ruling political parties (ex.: KDP’s daily Khabat, the Gali Kurdistan Channel, launched in 2008 by the PUK);

Group 2: Media groups indirectly affiliated with the ruling political parties, also known as ‘shadow media’ (the newspaper Rudaw and Civil Magazine funded primarily by the KDP, and the newspaper Aso funded by the PUK);

Group 3: Media groups directly affiliated with opposition political parties (ex.: the Speda TV satellite channel created by the Islamic Union in 2008; the satellite news channel KNN launched by the company Wesha in 2008, and the Jama’a Islamiya party’s weekly, Komal);

Group 4: Media groups which claim to be independent (Hawlati, Awene, Lvin and smaller publications such as the Standard and Chatr Press).

While several publications fall into Group 4, RWB asks what does independence really mean? There is no real consensus on what independence actually means. Political? Economic? Editorial?

Regardless of independence, numerous ‘red lines’ exist that cannot be crossed. What complicates matters is that red lines vary depending on political affiliation and geographical location. There are a few constants among the ‘red lines’ and they include: religion, sex and/or sexual preferences, tribal/historical leaders, corruption, neighbouring countries, and Kirkuk.

There is an incredible amount of mistrust between politicians and the media. Politicians do not grasp the importance of the media and journalists lack the needed degree of professionalism for their work. In fact, RWB identified the lack of training for the region’s journalists as a major problem in its report. Journalists lack professional skills and do not know the difference between opinion and information, or criticism and defamation. Farhad Awni, president of KJS, said that 97% of the journalists are not professionals and they have no concept of ethics or moral obligations.

Journalists also have to deal with threats, prosecution, and assaults. There is an excessive number of complaints against the media. Some journalists have been physically assaulted for their writings, primarily by uniformed police officers, government security forces (Asayesh) or even the PUK or KDP security forces. Some journalists have received death threats and a couple have been murdered.

Reporters Without Borders offers many recommendations in its report for the government, media outlets, political parties, and journalists. To see the recommendations or to read the entire 21-page report, download it here (.pdf).