Zana says government fears a solution

Leyla Zana in Silvan

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

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

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

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

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

Leyla Zana turns 50 on Tuesday.

Watch video:


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

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

The six BDP-supported candidates who were reinstated are:

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

Ertuğrul Kürkçü, Bianet Project Coordinator and journalist (Mersin)

Leyla Zana, former MP and political prisoner (Diyarbakır)

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

Sebahat Tuncel, lawyer and Istanbul deputy (Istanbul)

Salih Yıldız, former mayor of Yüksekova (Hakkari)

Not all convictions are created equal

YSK (Election Board) office

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leyla Zana (left)

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

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

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

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

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

Demonstrations in Diyarbakır

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AlJazeera gets it wrong on political party ban reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tensions between Kurds and the Turkish state escalating rapidly

Continuing on from KB’s article below, it seems that the Turkish state’s conflict with its Kurdish minority will only further escalate over the coming months.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, or in Kurdish, Teyrênbazê Azadîya Kurdistan (TAK), have issued a warning to tourists wanting to travel to Turkey. Firat News Agency reported that TAK are threatening new attacks in touristic areas:

your holidays, entertainments return  guns, bullets, bombs to Kurdish people and cause deaths. All of holiday areas in Turkey are attack and revengeful areas for us. It is the time of action and we will not hesitate to do what is necessary.

TAK (Teyrênbazên Azadîya Kurdistan) warns holiday goers to stay away from from Turkey, a 'terror' country

TAK, emerged in 2004 and have carried out a number of attacks on legal and government institutions, personnel as well as tourist locations. They are considered a hard-line splinter group from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The group was last active in 2006 and has been mostly absent from the Turkish-Kurdish conflict scene since then.

As well as issuing the warning, TAK claimed responsibility for a roadside bomb attack in Istanbul on June 8th 2010 which left 15 Turkish soldiers injured, their first such attack since 2006.

The announcement by TAK indicates a worsening situation in Turkey. As KB has pointed indicated in the previous article, the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) and the Turkish PM Erdogan have recently taken a new harsh approach to the Kurdish minority. The arrest and trial of the peace group that returned from the Kurdistan region of Iraq, the arrest of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) members and the heightened Turkish military activity in the Kurdish regions of Turkey have all led to the end of the so called “Kurdish Opening” aimed at reconciliation with Turkey’s Kurds.

AKP’s harsh approach is most likely because they are trying to please the nationalist extremist elements of Turkish society to win more votes when national elections approach next year. Turkish media has reported that nationalist Turks viewed the return of the peace group from Iraqi Kurdistan as a victory for Kurds in conflict between PKK and the state. In fact Turkish media have also speculated that an early election may be announced sooner, in fall 2010.

But what effect is this having on average Kurds? Erdogan and the AKP have changed their approach towards the Kurdish issue alternating between harsh and reconciliatory attitudes, usually whenever an election is near. It says a lot about the state of Turkey as a country where the interests of nationalist Turks and Kurds, secularists and Islamists, conflict.

The AKP’s almost schizophrenic approach to the Kurdish question may lead to only a more radicalized Kurdish population disillusioned by the policies and discourse of the Turkish state, which one day offers the hand of peace, then the next day shuts down pro-Kurdish parties that many Kurds vote for.

TAK, coming back on the scene, is the product of this radicalization and the further the AKP, as well as Turkish nationalists, continue denying the reality of such groups as the consecutive pro-Kurdish parties, their politicians and even the PKK as real representatives of the Kurdish people in Turkey, the greater the divisions will become between Kurds and Turks.


Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) official website – Turkish language.

TAK issues warning to tourists going to Turkey – Firat News Agency, 17 June 2010.

Turkish military says Kurdish rebel attacks increasing – CNN, 18 June 2010.

The Big Question: Who is behind the bombings in Turkey, and what do they want? – The Independent, 30 August 2006.

15 wounded in attack in Turkey – Associated Press, 08 June 2010.

Attacks threaten unusual Turkish outreach to Kurds – Today’s Zaman, 16 June 2010.

AK Party signals snap elections under worst case scenario – Today’s Zaman, 18 June 2010.

‘Kurdish Opening’ now closed; Peace Group on trial

What started out as a gesture of reconciliation has ended in the death of the Kurdish Opening.

In October of last year 26 refugees from Mexmur refugee camp and eight members of the PKK crossed into Turkey at the Habur gate.   The ‘Peace Group’ (Peace and Democratic Solution Group, or Koma Aştî û Çareseriya Demokratîk in Kurdish) as it became known was welcomed enthusiastically by thousands and thousands of well wishers in the area.  The returnees were not prosecuted by the authorities upon their return. Turkish PM Erdoğan said at the time, ‘Good things are happening in Turkey.  This is hope.’

Now, eight months later, all of the returnees, with the exception of four minors, are on trial.  All 30 have been charged with ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organisation’.  The eight PKK members face additional charges of ‘being a member of a terrorist organisation’, while the refugees from Mexmur face charges of ‘committing a crime in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member.’

The 30 are on trial in three groups at two separate Diyarbakır courts. Yesterday morning ten of them were arrested by the court for being a possible flight risk. Those from PKK face up to 20 years in prison.  The returnees from the refugee camp face up to 15 years each.

What has happened in the past eight months that completely reversed the direction of the so-called Kurdish Opening, or as it would later be dubbed, the Democratic Initiative?

The Turkish government has taken an increasingly hard-line approach towards the Kurds. At the same time, the PKK has increased its activities in the region causing further backlash from Ankara.

In November the government held a parliamentary debate on the initiative. Interior Minister Beşir Atalay announced to the parliament that he intended to permanently end the conflict with the PKK in an open-ended process that would end terrorism and raise Turkey’s level of democracy.  Head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Deniz Baykal accused Erdoğan of instituting a ‘plan to destroy and split Turkey.’ Then-leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli, said the AKP’s initiative was a ‘PKK initiative’ and charged that the government was negotiating and making deals with terrorists.

Ahmet Türk, former head of the now-banned DTP strongly criticised both the CHP and the MHP saying that they were ‘trying very hard to reverse the process because they have nothing to offer society apart from conflict, bloodshed and tears.’  He called their approach to the democratisation process racist, separatist, and dangerous.

The next month, December, saw the closure of the DTP and widespread arrests of local and national Kurdish politicians, activists, and students.  Those arrested were from the DTP and its successor, the BDP. Who can forget the now iconic photograph of BDP politicians lined up outside a courthouse in Diyarbakir in handcuffs? The purge lasted for months and more than 1,500 people were arrested.

Though there was intense opposition, Svante Cornell, a Swedish academic now at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said that while the AKP had good intentions, the whole process ‘failed not mainly because of the opposition, but because it mismanaged the process, had unclear goals, and did not succeed in controlling the flow of information.’

In recent months the PKK has expanded its attacks on Turkish military targets.  Thirty-five soldiers have died.  Earlier this month PKK spokesperson Ahmed Danees told Reuters: ‘Two days ago, we started waging attacks against the Turkish army in response to their repeated military attacks against the party and political attacks facing Kurds in Turkey’.  He also announced that they decided to break the unilateral ceasefire that had been in place since April 2009.

Now, some say, the AKP may adopt a more nationalist rhetoric and harsher tactics in order not to lose votes to the rightwing MHP.  In fact on Tuesday Erdoğan launched into strong attacks against the BDP, the country’s pro-Kurdish party.  Said Erdoğan,  ‘…saying peace won’t bring peace. Those who are in direct or indirect contact with the PKK are accomplices to murder.’ This could be interpreted as a prelude to a possible ban of the party.  After all, the general election is just over a year away.

Under the Peace Watch Tent

Meanwhile, in Diyarbakır, demonstrations and meetings against the Peace Group members’ trials are continuing.  The Diyarbakır Initiative for Peace group, supported by the Human Rights Association (IHD), and Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) have organised gatherings in the Peace Watch Tent.  The tent serves as a centre for speeches and rallies. BDP parliamentarians, Green Party co-chair, chair and former chair of the Human Rights Association (IHD), members of Kurdish Writers Association, regional mayors and many NGO representatives are there showing their support for the returnees. The peace watch tent, erected in a nearby park, is decorated with banners reading, ‘Peace is on trial, bear witness.’


10 arrested as trial begins in Turkey for Habur returnees. Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, 17 June 2010.

Support for arrested peace delegates spreads.  DiHA/Dicle News Agency, 17 June 2010.

Jones, Dorian. Friction Between Turkey, Kurdish Rebels Increasing. VOA News, 17 June 2010

Head, Jonathan. PKK returnees on trial in Turkey. BBC, 17 June 2010.

Stephens, Philip. Turkey puts Kurd activists on trial. Financial Times, 18 June 2010.

PKK rebels say scrap ceasefire on Turkish forces. Reuters, 03 June 2010.

BDP takes arbitrary arrests of Kurdish politicians into EU Court. Rojhelat, 18 May 2010.

Dewleta Tirk ‘açilim’ a xwe qedand; Endamên Koma Aştiyê hatin girtin. HawarNet, 17 June 2010.

Hacaoğlu, Selcan. Attacks threaten unusual Turkish Outreach to Kurds. The Huffington Post, 16 June 2010.

Endamên Koma Aştiyê parêznameya hevpar dan. Firat News, 17 June 2010.

From Kurdistan Commentary:

PKK Peace Caravan, 21 October 2009.

AKP’s Kurdish Initiative, 15 November 2009.

Arrests of Peace Caravan Members, 11 January 2010.

Counting begins

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

Tensions high in Kurdistan in run-up to elections

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

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

Gorran supporter holding up Gorran flag

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

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

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

Kurdistan Islamic Union

arrested and their tapes confiscated by KDP forces.

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

Kurdistan List

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Tensions in Suleimaniya Grow. Rudaw, 17 February 2010.

The Kurdish Parties. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

‘Gorran’ speaks out on corruption in Kurdistan

‘Corruption is authority plus monopoly minus transparency.’

Muhammed Rahim. Gorran

Muhammed Rahim, Gorran

Talk of corruption in Kurdistan has been going on for years.  Fighting the endemic corruption though is an uphill battle.   Says Mohammed Rahim, senior member of the Gorran (Change) List, that, in fact, one of the main goals of the Gorran movement is to ‘destroy corruption.’ Corruption has led the region into its current state and the people of Kurdistan are disturbed and deeply concerned, he says.

In a recent interview with AKnews, Rahim, spelled out what he feels are the most serious internal threats to Kurdistan. They are corruption, lack of social justice, and limited social services.  Corruption at the highest levels has led to the other ‘threats’, such as lack of pure water, limited electricity, few newly paved roads, and a dearth of school buildings.

The rhetoric over corruption and other issues is coming to a head and threatens internal stability.  No one wants to relinquish the power and money of elected office.  Rahim predicts increased tension in the run up to the March 7 national elections in Iraq, with negative impacts on the political reputation of Kurdistan.  But, he says, ‘Gorran will the model to be imitated by other political entities.’

Gorran won 25 of 111 seats in the July 2009 Kurdish Parliamentary elections, and defeated the PUK/KDP coalition in Suleimaniya.

Jumping on the corruption bandwagon, last week Al-Jazeera ran a 24-minute segment on its ‘Inside Iraq’ programme that delved into the issue of corruption in Kurdistan.  Host Jassim al-Azzawi interviews Mohammed Ihsan, KRG representative in Baghdad, and Kamal Majid, professor emeritus at University of Cardiff in the UK, a feisty political exile who doesn’t hold back.  Click image below to go to YouTube video of the show.


Salih, Mohammed. Iraq: Will elections being stability, or more turmoil? Tehran Times, 13 January 2010.

‘Change’ in exclusive interview with AKnews.  AKnews, 02 February 2010.

Opposition movement becomes political party.  Kurdish Aspect, 20 January 2010.

Kirkuk Deal on Saturday?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethnic politics and Iran’s election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Iran map: ethnic groups

Iran map: ethnic groups

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Barham Salih and the upcoming KRG elections

Dr Barham Salih

Dr Barham Salih

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Talabani’s brother-in-law announces candidacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Elections on 25 July says Barzani

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

by Shamal Aqrawi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Reuters article]

Movement for Change

'The old politicians and the dominating traditional parties are not interested in making change in Kurdistan,' Nawshirwan Mustafa

'The old politicians and the dominating traditional parties are not interested in making change in Kurdistan,' Nawshirwan Mustafa

The upcoming parliamentary elections in Iraqi Kurdistan will see a new political bloc vying for seats in a struggle against the two controlling mainstays of Kurdish political power: the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Masud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) whose leader is the incumbent president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani.

Nawshirwan Mustafa was, for some 40 years, part of that very political establishment.  He was co-founder of the PUK with Talabani back in 1975.  He stepped down from his post as deputy secretary-general in December 2006, lamenting the fact that any type of reform in the political system was blocked.

Mustafa, now 65, has decided to create an independent coalition, the Movement for Change, to contest the upcoming parliamentary elections, reports Adnan Osman, editor-in-chief of the Rozhnama newspaper, which is owned by Mustafa’s Wusha Media Corporation.

Says Mustafa, ‘The two parties [KDP and PUK] are controlling the police and media and we fear that this may affect the elections.  But we think that the will of the people will prevail in the end.’

Video: Interview with Nawshirwan Mustafa on Al-Jazeera


Barzanji, Yahya.  Independent candidate taps on ‘Change’ slogan to woo Iraq’s divided Kurds in regional vote.  AP, 02 May 2009.

Nawshirwan Mustafa: The Voice of the Opposition from Within, Middle East magazine, May 2008

Osman, Twana and Roman Zagros. Ex-Kurdish leader takes on old allies in Iraqi Kurdistan, EKurd, 13 November 2008

Zagros, Roman and Azeez Mahmood. Third Force in Kurdish Politics Mooted, ISN Zurich, 06 April 2009