Campaigners win a Parliamentary debate on the Kurdish genocide in Iraq, following more than 27,000 signatures on Government e-petition
13th February 2013: It has been announced today that the British Parliament will debate a motion calling for formal recognition of the mass murder of Kurdish people in Iraq as genocide. The news follows a tireless campaign for recognition, supported by more than 27,500 British citizens, who have all signed an e-petition demanding justice for the murdered Kurds.
The debate will take place in the main chamber at 1:30pm on the 28th February. It will be based on a votable motion, the successful end result of which is that Parliament will have recognised the genocide.
The debate itself represents a significant victory for the campaign e-petition, sponsored by Nadhim Zahawi MP, which was launched in March last year in a bid to urge the British Government to debate the mass killings and recognize the truth. The campaign has since been supported throughout the year by the Kurdish community, the Kurdistan Regional Government UK Representation, and British MPs from all political parties, especially those who are members of the highly supportive All Party Parliamentary Group for Kurdistan including Robert Halfon MP, and Meg Munn MP. Together, they recently made a successful presentation to the Business Committee which allocates time for debates in Parliament.
During the presentation, Nadhim Zahawi MP told the Committee that his father was forced to flee Iraq simply because he was Kurdish and he was not willing to join the Baath party. He said that Britain has been heavily involved with the Kurdish people going back to Sykes-Picot, but more recently with Sir John Major who saved the Kurdish people with the no-fly zone and Tony Blair who is seen as the liberator of the Kurds.
Robert Halfon MP said that unless the genocide is recognised internationally, people cannot be brought to justice. Meanwhile, Meg Munn MP said that the debate would have a wider resonance given events in Syria, and Fabian Hamilton MP cited good cross-party support for a debate. Jason McCartney MP, who served as a Royal Air Force officer in the no-fly zone in Zakho, said it would be a fitting tribute to have the debate on the 25th anniversary of the chemical weapons attack on Halabja.
The Kurdistan Regional Government High Representative to the UK, Ms. Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman said:
“The genocide brought unimaginable suffering to our people: families were torn apart, sons and fathers killed en masse or simply buried alive, women and children bombed with poison gas. We believe that this suffering needs to be acknowledged, not just by us Kurds and Iraqis, but by our friends too, so that the victims’ families and the survivors can reach closure and a message is sent out to any other regime oppressing its people or considering using chemical weapons. Imagine how heartened the survivors who are now British citizens would feel to be in the chamber, listening to such a debate.”
Ms. Rahman also told the committee how the Swedish and Norwegian parliaments recently debated the genocide and the Kurdish community is wondering why Britain had not yet done the same.
In January, the British Government issued a response to the e-petition which acknowledged that no group suffered more than the Iraqi Kurds. However, the Government response went on to say that It remains the Governments view that it is not for governments to decide whether a genocide has been committed in this case, as this is a complex legal question.
The debate on the 28th February may encourage the Government to change its position.
For further information, please contact Stephanie Blott or Helen Ayres at KRG@luther.co.uk or call 0207 618 9193.
The Government response to the e-petition: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31014
The e-petition can be found here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31014
Campaign website: http://www.justice4genocide.com/index.php
The motion to be debated is as follows:
The 25th anniversary of the Kurdish genocide and its contemporary relevance
That this House formally recognises the Genocide against the people of
Iraqi Kurdistan and encourages governments, the EU and UN to do
likewise; believes that this will enable Kurdish people, many in the
UK, to achieve justice for their considerable loss; further believes
that it would also enable Britain, the home of democracy and freedom,
to send out a message of support for international conventions and
human rights, which is made even more pressing by the slaughter in
Syria and the possible use of chemical arsenals.
Some key facts about the genocide
· The genocide of Kurdish people in Iraq began in the 1960s and continued until the late 1980s.
· In 2006, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) estimated there being 270 mass graves in Iraq containing between 10 and 10,000 bodies in each grave.
· An estimated 180,000 Kurdish people were killed between 1987 and 1988 alone during Saddam Hussein’s genocidal campaign called Anfal. The true scale of the killing from the 1960s to 1990 is not yet known.
· In the 1980s, the Kurdish population was also attacked with chemical weapons. During the most vicious assault, Saddam Hussein dropped bombs containing chemical weapons on the Kurdish city of Halabja gassing as many as 5,000 men, women and children to death indiscriminately and leaving tens of thousands of people injured. They died slowly, in unimaginable pain from chemical burns. Of those who survived, many still live with painful injuries and many children are born with birth defects.
· In 1983, 8,000 men and boys of ‘battle age’ from the Kurdish Barzani tribe were rounded up on trucks and vanished. The bodies are now being discovered in mass graves. From then on, men and boys as young as 13 were targeted , driven far away from their homes in trucks and executed en masse. Many victims were tied together, made to stand on the lip of pre-dug graves and shot in the back so they would fall forward into them. Others were made to lie down in pairs, sardine-style, next to mounds of fresh corpses before being killed. Some, who didn’t die from gun shots were then buried alive.
· Of the total Kurdish victims, an estimated 70% were men, according to Human Rights Watch
· 90% of Kurdish villages and more than 20 small towns and cities were completely destroyed during the campaign to wipe out the Kurdish population in Iraq.
· In 1993, US-based Human Rights Watch launched an extensive investigation into the attack on the Kurds by Saddam Hussein’s regime and concluded that it was genocide.
· In 2005, the court in the Hague established that the chemical bombing in Kurdistan constituted genocide in a landmark case in 2005 – the Frans Van Anraat Trial. During the Appeal, it was later referred to as ‘war crimes’.
· The Iraqi High Tribunal found Sultan Hashim Ahmad, Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti, and Ali Hassan al-Majid (known as Chemical Ali) guilty of genocide in 2007.
· The research institute Swiss Peace recognized the genocide in 2008.
· In 2008 the Iraqi Presidential Council approved Resolution 26 ratifying a parliamentary resolution condemning the crimes of Saddam Hussein’s regime against the Kurds as acts of genocide. This resolution affirmed the previous parliamentary resolution that declared all acts committed against the Kurds in Iraqi-Kurdistan by the former regime were to be considered genocide.
· In March 2010, the Iraqi Supreme Court ruled that the 1988 attacks on the Kurdish population were indeed genocide.
Kurdistan Commentary has selected issues relating to the Kurds from this massive 665-page report and posted them below. Turkey continues to garner to bulk of the Kurdish-related news in the HRW report, as it has in years past. In the Syria section there is no mention of the Kurds at all. That chapter is focused on abuses taking place in the ongoing civil war in Syria, with no reference to Kurdish regions. The Iran chapter contains minimal information and the Kurdistan section of the Iraq chapter focuses, as in previous HRW World Reports, on freedom of expression and female genital mutilation.
Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government maintained economic growth in 2012 despite a slowdown, and a strong focus on developing a leading regional role, but failed to take convincing steps to address the country’s worsening domestic human rights record and democratic deficit. Prosecutors and courts continued to use terrorism laws to prosecute and prolong incarceration of thousands of Kurdish political activists, human rights defenders, students, journalists, and trade unionists. Free speech and media remained restricted, and there were ongoing serious violations of fair trial rights.
Cross-party parliamentary work on a new constitution to uphold the rule of law and fundamental rights continued, although it was unclear at this writing whether the government and opposition would reach a consensus on key issues such as minority rights, fundamental freedoms, and definition of citizenship.
In March, parliament passed legislation to establish a National Human Rights Institution, and in June, an ombudsman institution to examine complaints against public officials at every level. Human rights groups criticized government control of appointments to the national institution’s board and its failure to meet the test of independence from the government that United Nations guidelines recommend.
With the AKP condoning the mass incarceration of Kurdish activists, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) escalating attacks, 2012 saw a spiraling descent into violence with armed clashes resulting in hundreds of deaths of soldiers and PKK members, significantly higher than recent years. Throughout 2012, the PKK kidnapped security personnel and civilians, including local politicians, one parliamentarian, and teachers, releasing them periodically. A suspected PKK attack in Gaziantep in August left nine civilians dead, including four children. The non-resolution of the Kurdish issue remained the single greatest obstacle to progress on human rights in Turkey.
Freedom of Expression, Association, and Assembly
While there is open debate in Turkey, government policies, laws and the administration of justice continue to lag behind international standards. The government has yet to carry out a comprehensive review of all existing laws that restrict freedom of expression, although a draft reform package was expected in late 2012 at this writing.
The so-called third judicial reform package came into force in July 2012. It ends short-term bans of newspapers and journals, which the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has criticized as censorship. The law suspends investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of speech-related offenses carrying a maximum sentence of five years that were committed before December 31, 2011, provided the offense is not repeated within three years. Critics fear the threat of reinstatement will continue to muzzle debate.
Thousands charged with alleged terrorism offenses remained in prison throughout their trials. Most of those in prison are Kurdish activists and officials of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) standing trial for alleged links to the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK/TM), a body connected with the PKK, and in general the ongoing clampdown on the BDP and Kurdish political activism intensified in 2012 with repeated waves of mass arrests and prolonged imprisonment. The trial of 44 Journalists and media workers (31 in detention) began in Istanbul in September. They are among the many journalists, students, lawyers, trade unionists, and human rights defenders imprisoned and prosecuted for association with the KCK.
There was little progress in the main Diyarbakır KCK trial of 175 defendants. The 108 defendants who have been in custody for up to three-and-a half-years include Human Rights Association Diyarbakir branch head Muharrem Erbey, six serving local BDP mayors, several local BDP council members, and five elected BDP parliamentarians.
The July reform package also introduced and encouraged alternatives to remand imprisonment pending trial. But there were no indications that courts apply this to those already held in prolonged prison detention under terrorism charges. Statistics from the Ministry of Justice from May, the most recent data available, indicated that 8,995 of the 125,000-strong prison population were charged with terrorism offenses, and that half of the 8,995 were awaiting an initial verdict.
Great obstacles remain in securing justice for victims of abuses by police, military, and state officials.
In December 2011, a Turkish airforce aerial bombardment killed 34 Kurdish villagers, many of them young people and children, near Uludere, close to the Iraqi-Kurdistan border, as they crossed back into Turkey with smuggled goods. Concerns that there had been an official cover-up were fuelled by repeated statements by the prime minister rejecting calls by media, opposition parties, and families of victims for a full explanation of the incident, lack of a public inquiry, and a protracted criminal investigation that had not concluded at this writing.
Key International Actors
Turkey’s European Union accession negotiations remained stalled. The election of France’s President François Hollande helped to improve French-Turkish relations. In October, the European Commission in its annual progress report voiced strong criticism in most areas relating to human rights, emphasizing the importance of work on a new constitution, and stressing “the Kurdish issue remains a key challenge for Turkey’s democracy.”
The United States government remains an important influence on Turkey, sharing military intelligence on PKK movements in northern Iraq.
In January, a groundbreaking report by the Council of Europe (CoE) commissioner for human rights focused on “long-term, systemic problems in the administration of justice,” and its negative impact on human rights.
In its October review of Turkey, the UN Human Rights Committee recommended reforms including amending the National Human Rights Institution law, introducing comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, and addressing the vagueness of the definition of terrorism in law and prolonged pretrial detention.
In 2011 authorities carried out more than 600 executions, second only to China, according to Amnesty International. Crimes punishable by death include murder, rape, trafficking and possessing drugs, armed robbery, espionage, sodomy, adultery, and apostasy.
Authorities have executed at least 30 people since January 2010 on the charge of moharebeh (“enmity against God”) or “sowing corruption on earth” for their alleged ties to armed groups. As of September 2012, at least 28 Kurdish prisoners were awaiting execution on national security charges, including moharebeh.
Treatment of Minorities
The government restricted cultural and political activities among the country’s Azeri, Kurdish, Arab, and Baluch minorities.
In April, Iraq’s parliament passed a law criminalizing human trafficking, but has yet to effectively implement it. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has not taken steps to implement a 2011 law banning female genital mutilation (FGM).
Freedom of Assembly
Security forces continued to respond to peaceful protests with intimidation, threats, violence, and arrests of protesters. On February 17, hundreds of security forces of the KRG surrounded a peaceful demonstration in Sulaimaniya’s Sara Square. Dozens of men in civilian clothing attacked protesters and made many arrests.
Freedom of Expression
The environment for journalists remained oppressive in 2012. The Iraqi parliament was at this writing considering a number of laws restricting the media and freedom of expression and assembly, including the draft Law on the Freedom of Expression of Opinion, Assembly, and Peaceful Demonstration, and a draft law regulating the organization of political parties that punishes expression “violating public morals” and conveying “immoral messages.” In September, the Federal Supreme Court denied a petition by a local press freedom organization to repeal the Journalists Protection Law on the basis that it fails to offer meaningful protection to journalists and restricts access to information.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Iraq at the top of its 2012 Impunity Index, which focuses on unsolved journalist murders, and reported that there have been no convictions for murders of journalists since 2003. Iraqi authorities made no arrests for the murder of Hadi al-Mahdi, a journalist critical of the government, killed in September 2011. Another journalist, Zardasht Osman, was abducted and murdered after publishing a satirical article about KRG president Massoud Barzani in 2010. The KRG never released details of the investigation into his death.
Women’s and Girls’ Rights
In June 2011, the KRG parliament passed the Family Violence Bill, which includes provisions criminalizing forced and child marriages; abuse of girls and women; and a total ban on FGM. Implementation of the law is poor, and dozens of girls and practitioners said that they had either undergone or performed FGM since the law was passed. The authorities took no measures to investigate these cases.
To see the entire 665-page report, go to the World Report 2013 page on the HRW website.
From AlJazeera English
Omar al-Saleh reporting
09 January 2013
An Interview with a Kurdish Icon: Former Radio Anchor Khalaf Zebari*
By Sirwan Kajjo
I remember it as though it happened yesterday. His moments of excitement were known only when his ancient radio would release an unclear sound in Kurdish! My father was complaining about the bad quality of the Kurdish broadcast of Voice of America (VOA). He would fearlessly curse the Syrian government for jamming the only Kurdish news outlet we were getting at the time. But when the deep, manly voice would come out of the radio, the whole household had to be in dead silence. “Hush, Khalaf is starting!” my father would announce.
This is how I first came to know of Khalaf Zebari, one of the most prominent radio broadcasters in the history of Kurdish journalism. I visited him at his house last month. He lives, along with his small family, in Springfield, Virginia. He retired from VOA earlier this year after his health deteriorated. While he runs down to the basement, his son tells me he still smokes two packs of cigarettes every day. Doctors have already warned him about the danger of smoking but Khalaf remains an avid smoker.
Born in 1948 in Zebar region of Iraqi Kurdistan, Khalaf grew up loving nature. You can easily tell that from the various types of trees he has in his backyard. Nature drove Khalaf to poetry at an early age. Who doesn’t know about “Nesrin”? He wrote the famous poem in 1967. Eight years later, Mihemed Şêxo, a legend of Kurdish music made Nesrin into a song. Ever since, the song has become a symbol of love among all Kurds.
He brings me an album that only has old pictures from back home. He tells me about the story of each picture with precise details. His memory functions outstandingly when to comes to the old days. While checking out the photos, he also narrates his years in Mosul, where his studied economics and met “Nesrin”, the girl whom he wrote about in his most known poem.
In 1974, Sabri Botani, another Kurdish poet, called Khalaf to ask him to work for Voice of Kurdistan radio (Dengê Kurdistan). In April 1974 the Voice of Kurdistan broadcast its first program in Kurdish to become a mouthpiece of the Kurdish revolution in Iraqi Kurdistan. Khalaf says the radio was functioning underground. But the broadcast didn’t last for long. In March 1975 the Algiers Agreement was signed between Saddam Hussein and the Shah of Iran. The infamous agreement ended the Kurdish revolution, and with that, the Kurdish dream of freedom was postponed. Consequently, the Voice of Kurdistan team, including Khalaf Zebari, fled the country to Iran. After staying two years as a refugee in Iran, Zebari finally made it to the US in 1977. In America, Nashville, TN was his first stop.
In 1992, the US Congress decided to a Kurdish Service at Voice of America. The VOA’s first show in Kurdish was aired from its headquarters in Washington D.C. on April 26, 1992. Khalaf Zebari and Homer Diyezi were the first anchors in the Kurdish service. In the beginning, they only had 15 minutes. Presently, VOA broadcasts three hours daily, one of them is also aired on TV. Shortly after its 20th anniversary, Khalaf announced his retirement.
I ask him what he has given and gained in these 20 years of experience. He says he has met great people from different parts of Kurdistan, shed light on unrepresented Kurds, especially those in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Lebanon and even in Syria and Turkey, and learned so much about the world.
But these long years didn’t take Khalaf Zebari away from poetry. On the contrary, being away from back home pushed him to write extensively about his beloved Kurdistan. His poetry collection Lion’s Den (Warê Şêran in Kurdish) was published in 1999 in Stockholm, Sweden. He also has enormous numbers of unpublished poems. These too will one day find their ways to a publishing house.
Perhaps the most striking characteristic of all of this living legend is after living in the United States for 35 years, Khalaf’s heart still leaps from his chest when he hears the word Kurdistan.
*Republished here at the request of the original author. This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of The Kurdish Review.
Eastern Kurdistan (Iran): Thousands of prisoners of conscience are being tortured, abused and treated in the most inhumane way possible. Many of whom have been executed in the past such as Shirin Elemhuli and Farzad Kemangar, and many are under threat of execution as I am writing this. Kemangar being merely a teacher with a strong civic conscience and a fearless belief in the unity of the people once said to his students in a letter from prison: “I leave you to the wind and to the sun so that, in the near future, you will sing lessons of love and sincerity to our land”. New reports on executions reach me on a daily basis as well as reports on Kurdish workers on the borders between the Kurdish parts being killed by Iranian military. Furthermore, Kurdish women and children are yet again discriminated against by the anti-female policies of the Iranian state. Imagine living as a young Kurdish woman in the anti Kurdish, anti female, anti youth society of Iran.
Southern Kurdistan (Iraq): Despite having a Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), which deals with the international community as a de facto state, more than merely having autonomy within Iraq, the Kurdish region is always under the threat of the Iraqi regime. Forced displacement of Kurds from the time of Saddam Hussein’s rule are still not reimbursed or even dealt with properly with refugee camps for Kurds within the multicultural city of Kirkuk which if anything should be declared a Kurdish- Arabic- Turcoman city. Never mind the constant bombardment of Kurdistan by Turkey, as if this land was only a sovereign region ruled by Kurds on paper, never mind the many civilian deaths due to this shelling or the environmental damages done to our precious landscapes of Kurdistan but yet Turkey has the audacity to intervene when murdered Kurdish guerrillas are being sent back to the KRG region for burial?! Seems Saddam Hussein’s ways just won’t leave the rulers of Iraq and thus also affecting South Kurdistan.
Northern Kurdistan (Turkey): With more than 700 Kurdish prisoners hunger striking for more than 52 days, this if anything should tell you how the Kurds are doing in Turkey. Use of chemical weapons against Kurdish guerrillas, Mass arrests, torture, disappearances, rape, burning of Kurdish forests and crop fields, disturbance during Newroz celebrations, closure of news papers, TV stations, political parties, forced name changes of scientific objects as to erase the Kurdish reference to certain objects, prohibition of use of letters X, W and Q, imprisonment of children under 15 years old and of women above 70 years old for participating in demonstrations etc. While the Turkish PM acts as saviour of the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Somalis and more or less anybody who is a Muslim, he keeps forgetting that he is treating his own Muslim population which is Kurdish more inhumanely than the world will ever know.
Western Kurdistan (Syria): Last but not east, Syria.With news reports of the so called ‘Free Syrian Army’ killing the female YPG commander named Nujin Derik yesterday, I can think of many more suitable names for the FSA. While Turkey is doing its best to intervene and disturb the unstable unity shown between the different Kurdish groups in Syria, the FSA is instead aiming at erasing Kurds, no matter whom, one by one. Strategic planning by those who do not want to see another free Kurdish region, have disturbed many good projects which the Kurds in Syria had planned and set up such as Kurdish language schools and Kurdish security forces for protection. While the world looks on, the FSA is ruining the historic wealth of Syria, killing any counterpart to their aims, no matter anti-Assad or not and first and fore most EVERYTHING pro-Kurdish, leaving me worried for whatever evil which will replace the current evil in Syria.
Qubad Talabani: It’s Time to Go Back to Kurdistan
By Sîrwan Kajjo
(originally published in the June 2012 issue of The Kurdish Review, a monthly Kurdish newspaper from Washington, DC. Reprinted here by request of author)
US Representative of Kurdistan Regional Government Qubad Talabani is getting ready to leave his office this year. After 12 years of representing Kurds in several positions, Talabani is expected to be working in the Prime Minister office once he’s back in Erbil. To shed light on this issue and other relevant matters, The Kurdish Review met with Mr. Talabani for this exclusive interview.
Kurdish Review: Let’s begin with the continuous dispute between KRG and central government, how do you see the US stance on this crisis?
Qubad Talabani: There is obviously a political dispute within the federal government, and this dispute is a natural dispute between legitimate entities in the country. The United States is no longer in charge of Iraq. Iraq is a sovereign country, so these disputes have to be managed domestically, managed by the governments themselves. It’s not the United States’ role to have a stance. It’s not for the US to take one side over the other. I think the US is trying to normalize its relation with Iraq. I think what the US wants out of all of this is an outcome that will lead to stability.
KR: There were Kurdish delegations from Turkey, Syria and Iran in Washington DC over the last few weeks to meet with US officials. Did you get to meet and/or Help them?
Qubad: We were pleased to meet all of our delegations in town. The details of the Eastern Kurdistan delegation was less clear to me. But I was certainly aware and closely following BDP/DTK delegation and Kurdish National Council in Syria’s delegation. We received them here in the office and gave them our advice of the kind of things that people here in Washington are interested in. I’m very happy to see these kinds of delegations coming from other parts on Kurdistan to meet with US government officials, meet with think thanks and educate them on other aspects of Kurdistan that they might not be familiar with. There’s a reasonable understanding in Washington regarding the issues of Iraqi Kurdistan and its complications. But I don’t think the policy community here is fully aware of Kurdish issues of Eastern, Northern and Western Kurdistan. So I believe these meetings are very important.
KR: Did you get any feedback from Washington policy-makers regarding those delegations and their meetings?
Qubad: Yes the feedback, official and nonofficial, that I’ve received was positive. The meetings were timely and people learned a lot from the delegations’ visit in Washington. For example, there is some much analysis on Syria. Very smart people in Washington and London are analyzing the situation as they read, but what makes all that even more unique is actually hearing from people from that region. Having the Kurdish delegation from Syria helped policy makers here to form a clearer vision on the issue. It was a good source of information for Washington.
KR: Rumors being spread in the Kurdish community that New-elect Kurdistan PM Nechirvan Barzani wants you in Kurdistan to hold the post of minister of oil and natural resources in KRG. Is that true?
Qubad: (Laughing)…. That is so far away from the truth. It’s true I’m leaving Washington after serving Kurdistan interests for 12 years in various posts as PUK representative, KRG – Sulaimaniyah Adminstration representative and finally the unified KRG representative. Now my time is running out here. I’m going back to Kurdistan to work for the Prime Minister in his office.
KR: When are you going back?
Qubad: This summer.
KR: Yes, but when precisely?
Qubad: This summer.
KR: Fine, who is going to take over your position?
Qubad: It’s not clear yet.
KR: Do you think KRG representative to UK, Bayan Sami Abdulrahman will succeed you?
Qubad: I have not heard anything formally about that. I think whoever takes over the job, will do it fantastically. Certainly Bayan Xan is more than capable of handling this job. In fact, she’s doing it already in England. I know she’s a great candidate and a great colleague of mine. I have a lot of respect for her. But for everybody’s sake, I think we should wait to see who the nominee is.
KR: During your period of service, how was your relationship with the Iraqi embassy in Washington?
Qubad: I’ve always had a good relationship with the Iraqi embassy. Obviously our work is different. There was some sensitivity in the past, mainly from embassy side. I can’t represent Basra here. I can’t represent Baghdad. My job here is to represent Kurdistan. In fact, we’d like to think that we’re filling a void on behalf of the embassy. So we live together, we work together but we don’t work for each other.
KR: But the embassy has complained about the expansion of your work here! Why is that?
Qubad: Up until recently, we only had six staffers, a couple of part-timers and contactors. We can’t compare our expansion and budget with the embassy. For instance, the embassy has a commercial attaché with a staff, a military attaché with its own staff and several other offices. So there really shouldn’t be any complaints.
KR: By the way, how many people work for your office now?
Qubad: Well so far, we have eight full time positions. We have a Director of Public Affairs, Director of Congressional and Academic Affairs, Director of Cultural and Community Affairs, Director of Political and Diplomatic Affairs, Director for Outreach . There also a couple of administrative positions. Moreover, we always have internships for Kurds and non-Kurds. So it’s quite a full team.
KR: What has Qubad Talabani done in the past 12 years representing the Kurds in the US?
Qubad: Well, it’s a good question. But it’s not for Qubad Talabani to say what I’ve done. With the help of my staff, we’ve been able to turn this office from a one-person office into an institution. I think that’s probably the accomplishment I’m most proud of. Twenty years ago, this office was run from somebody’s basement in Fairfax. Now it’s a true representation. We have this beautiful building that is owned by our government in a prominent location of the city. I would say it’s no less that an embassy in Washington. Of course, forming the American-Kurdish Congressional Caucus for the first time in the history of US Congress, for example, was a testimony of the good work this office’s been doing. Many other groups have been established here in order to promote Kurdish interests in the US.
KR: Many think that you played an imperative role in unifying the “divided” Kurdish community in America, in Washington area specifically. How could you get all these people together?
Qubad: I thank whoever says that. Indeed when I first came here, the community was really divided. Newroz parties were held separately. There was one for PUK, one for KDP, one for KDP-I. Even simple things like demonstrations were done separately. There was still a left over effect of the regrettable conflict in Kurdistan within the community here. But thankfully, that dynamic has changed and things are much better now. There’s one Newroz and everyone goes to it. Whether you’re Northern, Eastern, Southern or Westerner, it doesn’t matter. It was one of my goals when I first came here. I thought was crazy. Newroz is Newroz, it’s not PUK’s or KDP’s. It even went beyond that. Once we had meeting for several groups. Our eastern brothers got angry and left the meeting. And do you know what the challenge was? It was a problem with portraits of political leaders (laughing)… It was about whose picture to hang up at the event!! One party, I won’t mention names, wanted two pictures, one said just one picture is enough. Then things got so complicated… just over pictures. Of course, the experiment of having each person bring one picture became so embarrassing. So everyone eventually came to the understanding that its time to move on. Thankfully , the year after, which was 2005, we had the first new year without pictures. We just had the Kurdish flag. The community has also been more active in getting involved in policy making in the US. For example, the community was very helpful when we passed a resolution to open the US Consulate in Erbil
KR: What advice would you give to the next KRG representative in Washington?
Qubad: Washington is a unique animal. It’s not like other capitals in the world. Anyone who comes here has to be aware of this. My advice would be for them to not become part of the political divisions here. They should work with all parties, think thanks and other institutions. Our job here is not to take sides.
The other thing that I would like the next representative to work on is our getting closer to the community here. The Kurdish community can strengthen our mission here. One aspect of my years here that I can be somewhat self critical at is my work with the community. While we did engage the youth with some success, I think I could’ve done better in terms of broader community outreach and better engaging the community in our efforts. We have some exceptionally talented and patriotic Kurds here in the US, and they can be a real asset to Kurdistan.
Will botched airstrike lead to regional policy changes?
by Christian Sinclair
In late December 2011 Turkish military forces bombed a group of Kurdish civilians along the Iraq-Turkey border, killing 34 of the 38 in the group. Eighteen of the 34 who died in the attack were teenagers. The group came from the villages of Gülyazı (Bujeh) and Ortasu (Roboski) in the Uludere district of Sirnak and the attack has now been dubbed the “Roboski massacre” or the “Uludere massacre.” Ankara said it mistook the group for PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) fighters.
Suddenly, five months after the airstrike against these Kurdish civilians, there is intense media coverage of the Roboski massacre. Previously, there had been precious little coverage outside of Kurdish media circles of what is the largest civilian death toll in Turkey’s decades old campaign against the PKK. So why now? Why the coverage?
The 38-person caravan was en route back to Turkey after a trip across the border for fuel, cigarettes, sugar, and other items typically smuggled over the desolate, rugged mountain terrain in this region. As the group came within 50 meters of the border, the sky lit up with bombs dropped from F-16s in a raid lasting 40 minutes. When it was over, 34 charred bodies were left on the snowy mountain trails. The tragic loss of life sparked protests across Turkey but prompted only half-hearted, inconclusive investigations. Amnesty International says it has “doubts about whether [the investigation] is thorough and impartial and will be effective in identifying what happened and those responsible.” Even with international agencies investigating and protests across Europe, there was still very little coverage of the attack in the mainstream Western press.
Last Wednesday, however, the Wall Street Journal injected new life into the story by reporting that a U.S. drone was involved in passing along the intel to the Turkish military about suspicious activity along its border that night in December. Now many Turkish and Western media outlets are covering the story, albeit with competing narratives about who saw what first. It seems that the media interest now comes from the drones, Washington-Ankara relations, and who saw the caravan first, rather than the fact that Turkey, a member of NATO, killed almost three dozen of its own citizens in a questionable air raid.
In Ankara there is what is called a Combined Intelligence Fusion Cell where U.S. and Turkish personnel sit side by side to watch drone feeds in real time. That night, according to U.S. military officials, a predator “was on an eight-hour patrol along the Iraqi-Turkish border when its American controllers spotted the convoy walking toward the Turkish border.” That information was then passed along to the Turkish military, who then directed the Americans to move the drone out of the area.
But Turkey is insisting that there was no U.S. intelligence provided or that the action taken was based on Turkish intelligence. Turkish President Abdullah Gül said before flying to the U.S. for the NATO Summit in Chicago, that “[i]f the [Turkish] government, concerned authorities, the General Staff make a statement, we all should trust that.” He added that he does not “think it is not right to make such useless polemics.” Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan said the Uludere operation was “action from footage provided by our aircraft not by U.S. predators” and that particular region “was an area of terrorism.” It seems then with this blanket pronouncement that since Ankara had deemed it “an area of terrorism” then it should not be held responsible for what they have called an “administrative accident.”
This is troubling and the U.S. and other NATO partners need to understand the lens through which Turkey views any shared intelligence. A former senior U.S. military official told WSJ he and fellow officers were sometimes troubled by Turkish standards for selecting targets in their long-running battle with the PKK.
There are other, perhaps more troubling, theories about the WSJ report. In a very “creative” spin on the report, Turkish PM Erdoğan said late last week that he thought it “may be part of a project to undermine the Barack Obama administration as the U.S. presidential election approaches” and his take on this report is that it “is meant to make life difficult for the current [U.S.] government.”
The political opposition in Turkey has been quick to criticize Erdoğan and his party. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, head of the opposition CHP (Republican People’s Party), says he has “difficulty understanding this government’s mentality. This government failed in the Uludere case. It murdered 34 citizens.” Deputy CHP Chair, Sezgin Tanrikulu, says that the “reason why the government is keeping quiet now is that it wants to avoid political responsibility.”
Mayor Fehmi Yaman in Uludere charged that the attack was part of a series of government efforts to intimidate the local population and called it deliberate. “The orders for this attack came from the very top level and they will do everything to protect themselves,” said Yaman. Families of the victims said that the “Turkish army knew very well that the villagers, who are poor and uneducated, have used the route to smuggle for generations” and they could not have mistaken them for PKK militants.
Etyen Mahçupyan, columnist for Today’s Zaman, wrote in January that soldiers knew the caravan was coming, stopped them to gather them all in one spot, and then the soldiers “lit a flare to illuminate the region and allow warplanes to savagely shell the region and tear the smugglers’ bodies to pieces.” In fact, says Mahçupyan, it is “very hard to justify the argument that this incident was really an accident; there are a whole host of signs that suggest the massacre was deliberate.”
The questions surrounding this attack on innocent civilians should be raising alarm bells in Washington and elsewhere. U.S.-Turkish military cooperation is in need of review to better control how Ankara uses the information is receives from its American counterparts. There should also be a review of military aid to Ankara and strict controls on its use. Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said he wouldn’t “comment on intelligence-sharing with our Turkish allies” and instead remarked that the U.S. has “an enduring relationship with Turkey.” Perhaps someone at the NATO Summit in Chicago should take the opportunity to raise the issue with President Gül and lay out plans of how this relationship will endure.
In the end, we can only hope that the coverage continues, for whatever the reasons, and that the 34 Kurdish victims of this botched airstrike become a catalyst for policy change in the region. If that happens, their unfortunate deaths won’t be for naught.
(follow Christian Sinclair on Twitter: @sinclair_c)
It’s coming up later this month. The one year anniversary of #TwitterKurds!! Never heard of it? It’s a campaign on Twitter to raise awareness of Kurdish issues. It’s for anyone who wants to give voice to the Kurdish struggle for freedom of expression, freedom to be Kurdish, and freedom to speak Kurdish. It is a movement to raise awareness of human rights abuses perpetrated against the Kurdish peoples of the Middle East. It is a powerful social media tool to overcome media bias and spread the truth. #TwitterKurds has even been mentioned on Al Jazeera’s The Stream. It is a force to be reckoned with!
The power behind #TwitterKurds comes from the hundreds of dedicated global voices sending out 140-character messages hour after hour, day after day, gathering followers, users, believers; changing minds, changing hearts. When #TwitterKurds knocks on your social media door you might ask, ‘Who’s there?’ and #TwitterKurds responds, ‘The truth.’
In honour of
#TwitterKurds‘ first anniversary, there will be a mass tweet campaign to raise global awareness of the issues in all parts of Kurdistan. Join us on 25th May from 10 to 10GMT.
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.
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:
On the Way to a New Constitution:
Middle East, North Africa and Turkey
28th April 2012, Istanbul
Point Hotel Taksim
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
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
18:15 Concluding remarks: Herta Däubler-Gmelin, Former Minister of Justice, Germany
English-Turkish simultaneous translation will be provided during the conference.
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 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 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 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, 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 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 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.
Shiler Amini and Christian Sinclair will be joining Kurdistan Commentary as regular authors.
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, 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 email@example.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.
While focus is on the uprising in Syria which started almost a year ago, Syrian Kurds revolted years before.
Riots in the mainly Kurdish city of Qamishli in 2004 were crushed by security forces. Rights groups say at least 30 people were killed in that crackdown.
Thousands of Kurds crossed the border into Iraq and have been living as refugees since.
Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf reports from a refugee camp in Moqableh.
Have you ever read a news article that makes mention of Kurdish political parties in Syria? If so, you’ve probably been terribly confused by the many similar party names and who all the players are. Trying to sort out Kurdish politics in Syria is reminiscent of that great scene from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. You may remember all naming of all the parties…the People’s Front of Judea, the Judean Popular People’s Front, the Judean People’s Front, and so on.
Well, an article was just published that sheds some much needed light on Kurdish politics in Syria and was just released on Middle East Report Online. The article, The Evolution of Kurdish Politics in Syria, was written by Christian Sinclair and Sîrwan Kajjo. Sinclair is the assistant director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Kajjo is a Syrian-Kurdish journalist and human rights activist based in DC.
Together they’ve put together a piece that looks at historical origins of the parties, the fractious nature of Kurdish politics, an inside look at party membership, and a framework of how these parties relate to the regime in Damascus, and, now their relationships with the Kurdish youth movements.
You can find the article here: http://www.merip.org/mero/mero083111