Sardasht Osman debate on Al Jazeera’s Inside Iraq

Al Jazeera English. Inside Iraq’s latest program was a debate on the killing of the Kurdish student journalist, Sardasht Osman.

Debate participants:

Hiwa Osman, the Iraq country director for Institute War and Peace Reporting, son of Kurdish politician Mahmoud Osman and former media advisor to Iraqi president Jalal Talabani.

Houzan Mahmoud, a London-based activist with the Organisations of Women’s Freedom in Iraq.

CrowdVoice – Tracking Voices of Protest

A friend recently made a new project aware to me from the Mideast Youth website called CrowdVoice.

Find a Voice

Mideast Youth gives a basic description, but from what I can see CrowdVoice acts as a user-generated aggregator of information; articles, images, videos, podcasts, events, etc, of different ongoing movements, protests, causes and rights campaigns.

It’s a novel and interesting idea and I can see it becoming big in the future. Currently there are 5 causes on CrowdVoice including one called Kurdish Human Rights in the Middle East

The other causes listed on there are:

  • Israeli Raid on Gaza Flotilla
  • Prisoners of Conscience in Iran (also includes Kurdish prisoners of conscience)
  • Emergency Law and Police Brutality in Egypt
  • Kyrgyzstan’s Interim Government Unable to Squelch Ethnic Violence

CrowdVoice also allows people to Request a Voice where by you fill out a simple form to request that a particular cause be added to the project’s database.

I really like the interface and design of CrowdVoice, it’s very much in line with the design of the different Mideast Youth websites such as Alliance for Kurdish Rights and The Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights.

I’ll be keeping an eye on CrowdVoice to see how it develops. Very exciting!

Kurdistan Region Media Scan 14th – 20th June, 2010

KB and I have agreed to start a regular segment on Kurdistan Commentary focusing on the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Every week, or even bi-weekly depending on time and workload, I will give an update of the major news and issues that are being reported on in the Kurdistan region media.

This segment will be called ‘Kurdistan Region Media Scan’ (KRMS). My first update is pretty long considering there was a lot to write about. Hopefully readers will get a better insight on the Kurdistan region of Iraq through KRMS.

KRMS for the week of 14th – 20th June, 2010

This week the major topics in the Kurdistan region of Iraq were related to:

  • the Iranian bombing of the Kurdistan region,
  • the 3rd Congress of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan,
  • the Human Rights Watch report on female genital mutilation in Kurdistan region,
  • the wake of student journalist Sardasht Osman who was kidnapped and killed,
  • education reform in the Kurdistan region.

The Iranian bombardments of the Kurdistan region.

The independent Awene reported on its website that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held a press conference on 17th June 2010, where Kawa Mahmud, the official KRG spokesperson and Minister for Culture and Youth, objected to the Iranian bombing of and incursion into the Kurdistan region. Mustafa Moradi, the Erbil (Hewler) General Director for the Environment, also stated in the press conference that the KRG will take munitions’ remnants of the Iranian bombards to Germany to be tested for poisonous substances.

The KRG Minister is reported to have said:

“Iranian forces have crossed 2km into the Kurdistan region in the area of Haji Omran… the incursion into Iraq is not in line with the proper neighborly relations and international conventions…the [Kurdistan] regional government does not interfere in the affairs of neighboring countries and will not accept any neighboring country to interfere in the affairs of Kurdistan…we [KRG] do not conduct two-faced politics”


Awene also published, in their print edition, a photo of the 14 year old girl, Basoz Jabar, that was killed by Iranian shelling, and wrote that she was top of her class at school.


The Peyamner website which is affiliated to Nechirvan Barzani, former PM of KRG, published two separate articles regarding the bombings, reporting, citing local villagers, that Iranian Revolutionary Guards will shoot at anyone nearing the border, and that there were plans by the Kurdish students union to hold sit-down protests both on the border areas being bombed, as well as outside the Iranian consulate in Erbil (Hewler).


The independent Hawlati reported on their website that in Sangasar, a child, from one of the families that have been displaced by the Iranian bombings, had drowned after falling into a river.


On 19th of June the Xendan media organisation which is rumoured to be affiliated with Barhman Salih, the current PM of the KRG, reported that Iran had started bombarding the Choman border area, and that since the bombardments started two months ago “more than 500 families in the Qaladze area and the surrounding villages had fled to Ranya town”


The Gorran affiliated Sbeiy media organisation also reported, citing security sources, that Iran had bombarded the Choman area for over an hour. The security sources also added that Turkish fighter jets had been sighted in the area of Soran.


The independent Lvin magazine published an article on its website with a link containing photos of the refugees from the border area.


The 3rd General Congress of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan

Most media in the Kurdistan region have reported on the 3rd General Congress of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which follows the breakaway of a significant number of top officials from the party who established the Gorran movement that made major gains in both last year’s Kurdistan region elections, and the March 2010 Iraqi federal elections.

PUKmedia, the official website of the PUK has been published the names of the members elected to two of the party’s three main institutions, the Leadership Committee and the Central Committee. The Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, was re-elected to his post as Secretary General of the PUK and Barham Salih, PM of KRG, and Kosrat Rasul were selected as his deputies. Talabani’s wife gained the majority of the votes in the leadership committee.

Independent media as well as the Gorran newspaper, Rojname, have published articles stating that the PUK’s 3rd General Congress did not bring about the change that was expected.

The independent Hawlati published two interviews with Jalal Ayranjakhi and Ghafur Darwesh, both PUK members that failed to be elected to the party’s Leadership committee. Ghafur Darwesh said in his interview that PUK decided to keep the same old members in positions of power because they looked at the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and saw that the Barzani family stays in power with every congress they hold. So the PUK agreed to do the same.


Jala Ayrabjakhi said in his interview that the party has not brought the change that people expected and that the same powerful members stayed in their posts. He said that younger members of the party were not given the change to progress. He also said in the interview that there were many violations of the congress’s rules and that Jalal Talabani was the first to violate the rules by appointing his own deputies without them being put to a vote.


Rojname takes a similar tone. Another member of the PUK, Adalat Abdula, commented to Rojname that they were worried the pledges made at the congress for change and reform will not be fulfilled because the same people stayed in positions of as before. The Rojname article goes on to say that the PUK has become a military and security party because of the election of security and intelligence members to the leading committees.


Awene also published an article writing the same as Rojname, quoting anonymous sources, that the leadership of the PUK had pre-selected the members that would be elected to the new Leadership Committee, and that because many military and security intelligence members were elected at the cost of intellectuals, writers and young members, PUK has thus become a military and security party.


Human Rights Watch report on FGM in Kurdistan region

This week, Human Rights Watch published a report on female genital mutilation (FGM) in the Kurdistan region and strongly urged the KRG to do more to stop the practice in Kurdish society, which the report stated was widespread. The news gained much attention internationally from most major media organs such as the BBC, CNN, Reuters and so forth. It has also been a major topic in the Kurdistan region with all media reporting on it.

The Peyamner website affiliated to Nechirvan Barzani in a meeting with the Kurdistan region’s Minister for Health, Taha Hawrami, stated that the Minister had been visited by HRW and that they had told him only 30% of females in only “some areas” suffered from FGM and not 70% has the report stated. Hawrami also stated that in his history of being a doctor he had not once been visited by a female with the injuries written about in the HRW report, and for him that means the incidence of the practice is less than what HRW has reported.


The Gorran affiliated Sbeiy website reported that the Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs published a letter of discontent in reaction to the HRW report. The letter was addressed to Nadia Khalifa, a women’s rights expert with HRW in the Middle East, and stated the Ministry was displeased that it was not included in the report. They deemed their involvement important as it was suggested Kurds practice FGM partly because of religious reasons. Also in the letter the Ministry clarified that the practice of FGM is not related to the Islamic religion and that no Mullahs or Imams from the Ministry had issued any Fatwas (religious edict) urging the practice of FGM in the Kurdistan region.


Also, both the KDP affiliate Gulan magazine and the independent Awene reported on the statement of the Kurdistan Union of Islamic Scholars (KUIS) regarding the HRW report. In their official state the KUIS expressed their dissatisfaction for not being consulted on the matter of FGM in Kurdistan. The KUIS also stated that they are against any acts or customs that hinder the progress of women or violate their rights.


In the wake of the killing of Sardasht Osman

It has been 40 days since the kidnapping and killing of the student journalist, Sardasht Osman, which ignited protests in the Kurdistan region and the Kurdish diaspora against the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Barzani family which protestors alleged were responsible for the killing. Sadrasht’s killing gained much attention from international media. The KDP angrily accused the opposition Gorran movement of fuelling the protests. This week was Sardasht’s wake and only the Gorran affiliated media organs and independent media reported about it.

The Gorran media corporation Wusha’s KNN satellite channel reported that authorities in Erbil (Hewler) capital of Kurdistan region, did not allow a number of journalists to hold a public wake for Sardasht Osman.


Also, the independent Lvin, Hawlati, and the Gorran website Sbeiy all reported that the Hewler Union of Journalists have released a statement stating:

“we have lost hope in getting a final answer from the government regarding the circumstances in which Sardasht was killed”


Education in the Kurdistan Region

Both the Gorran affiliated Sbeiy website and the independent Awene published articles on a report published by the non-governmental American Society for Kurds (ASK), focused on the Kurdistan region’s education system.

The ASK report claims that the 6th cabinet of the Kurdistan Regional Government has not upheld promises it pledged for reforming the education system, and that political party influence is still strong on the Ministry of Education. The report also states that the KRG has not fully begun the building of the 125 schools it had pledged and only the foundation stones of a few schools had been laid in the region.

The ASK report does however state that many visible reforms have been made to the education system, but there are still many short-comings.


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.

Iranian activist calls Mottaki a “murderer” for executing Kurdish political prisoners

Iranian opposition activists heckled and threw eggs at Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran’s Foreign Minister, on a trip to Dublin.

On a recent trip to Dublin, Ireland, Manoucher Mottaki was heckled by Iranian activists, calling the Iranian Foreign Minister a “terrorist” and “murderer”.

As the video below shows, Mottaki’s bodyguards assaulted the activists kicking one down a flight of stairs and punching another.

One of the protesters pointed his finger at the Iranian Minister shouting “shame on you, shame on you. You’re a murderer” and continued “why did you execute 5 Kurdish political prisoners?”

Iran recently executed 4 Iranian Kurds, one of them a woman, and another Iranian man on charges of “moharebeh” which is an Iranian term meaning “enmity against God”. The Iranian Kurds were sentenced to death on charges of being members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), two Kurdish opposition rebel groups fighting Turkey and Iran respectively.

Iran is second only to China in terms of capital punishment, but can be considered number one in the world for the number of people it executes in proportion to its population.

Amnesty - Death Penalty in 2009

Mottaki was giving an address to the Institute of International and European Affairs regarding the recent round of UN Security Council sanctions on Iran.

As he left the building more protestors were waiting outside to confront Mottaki by hurling eggs and chanting “Death to Khamanei, death to dictator”.

Irish news sources report that some of the protestors were members of the Mujaheddin-e Khalq or People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK/PMOI) dissident group, which up until January 2009 was designated as a terror organization by the European Union.

Turkey’s Terrorist Bias. Part 1 (The State)

This is the first of two articles focusing on the bias in Turkey towards one militant group, Hamas, over another, the PKK.

The Turkish state and media have different, conflicting, attitudes towards the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK) and the Palestinian Hamas.

The famous quote “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” holds true as much today as it always has, especially, and absurdly, within Turkey.

In recent years the Turkish state’s relations with Israel have seen a gradual decline since the ascendency to power of the Islamist rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP Turkish acronym) in 2004. Alongside this deterioration of relations has arisen a bias in Turkey, both from the state and the media, in their approach to dealing with two militant groups that most countries recognize as terrorist organizations.

Hamas on the one hand, opposed to the existence of Israel, has fought a bloody war with that country since the 1990s, whilst the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has been fighting Turkey since 1984, initially demanding a separate state for Turkey’s Kurds, but later changing their demands, calling instead for cultural and political rights for Kurds.

Elections and legitimacy

The AKP has taken a critical approach towards Israel on the Palestinian issue, increasingly so since the 2009 Israeli offensive on Gaza, as highlighted in the very public spat between Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos last year. Relations between the two countries have become so bad that Erdogan has started lobbying for the recognition of Hamas as a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people despite that organizations refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Erdogan’s argument is that Hamas won the Palestinian Authority (PA) 2006 parliamentary elections and has the right to represent the Palestinians.

“Hamas entered the elections as a political party. If the whole world had given them the chance of becoming a political player, maybe they would not be in a situation like this after the elections that they won. The world has not respected the political will of the Palestinian people.”

argued Erdogan in an interview with Newsweek in January 2009.

Further still, the situation has worsened with the recent Gaza flotilla incident where 9 Turkish nationals were killed by Israeli commandos. As a result Erdogan and the AKP have taken an even harsher tone towards Israel with reference to Hamas, putting Turkish-Israeli relations at an unprecedented low.

“I do not think that Hamas is a terrorist organization…They are Palestinians in resistance, fighting for their own land,”

Erdogan has said. On the deaths of 9 Turks during the Gaza flotilla raid by Israel, Erdogan has said:

“This action, totally contrary to the principles of international law, is inhumane state terrorism”.

Taking Erdogan’s logic on why Hamas should be recognized on the grounds of winning the 2006 elections, it is possible to see a double standard in his argument. During the 2009 Turkish local elections the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) put on a strong showing, gaining large support in the predominantly Kurdish areas of the country, only narrowly coming second to the AKP. Yet Erdogan and the AKP run government banned that party for being a “focal point of terrorism”, imprisoning dozens of its members and banning from politics for 5 years its top brass.

Erdogan had arrogantly hoped to win over most of the Kurdish areas after introducing cosmetic reforms, vowing that he would “take that castle” in reference to the largest Kurdish dominated city of Diyarbakir. AKP even went as far as to hand out free electronic appliances to Kurds to gain their votes. But once the DTP showed its strength, the state resorted to banning them. Incidentally the Kurds kept the castle with over 66% of the vote.

The DTP quickly reorganized under a new name, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), and again the Turkish state, and in some cases, ordinary Turks, have been hard at work harassing, intimidating and imprisoning its members, as well as trying to outlaw the BDP.

What is interesting to note in this parallel is how Israel did not intervene to prevent Hamas taking part in the 2006 PA elections, leaving the Palestinians instead to choose their own representatives. However, Israel had set conditions for holding peace talks with the Palestinians. One of them being, understandably, that Hamas cease aggression towards Israel as well as recognize Israel’s right to exist; something that Hamas has yet to agree to. Meanwhile, Turkey has, to date, refused to accept the PKK as a key player in solving the Kurdish question and has moved to ban any pro-Kurdish political party that shows any sign of factoring the PKK into a Kurdish solution.

And all this is despite a number of unilateral ceasefires declared by the PKK since the 1990s which Turkey has ignored, instead favoring a ‘surrender or die’ approach towards the PKK. Considering this, one could say that Israel and the PKK would make realistic negotiating partners for peace, in comparison to Hamas and Turkey and their ‘all or nothing’ attitudes.

State terrorism

Equally absurd is Turkey’s critique of Israel’s reaction and use of force, by labeling it “state terrorism”. Not that Israel is not famous for using heavy handed force which is rightly questionable and worrying, i.e. Gaza offensive 2009. But the absurdity, again, lies in the reality of Turkish politics and state policies.

Turkey reacts with the charge of “state terrorism” at Israel for boarding a ship and subduing hostile crew members, leaving 9 dead. But what of the continued oppression of the Kurds? The most shocking policy that Turkey has pursued in recent years has been the imprisonment of children under anti-terror laws. Children of 14 and 15 years of age are being imprisoned for throwing stones at Turkish police and chanting slogans in support of the PKK, a crime under Turkish anti-terror laws. Yet Turkey complains about Israel shooting violent activists that support Hamas.

Furthermore, for the past 6 years Turkey has routinely shelled and bombed the Kurdistan region of Iraq where the PKK has bases, and has launched numerous ground offensives into Iraqi Kurdistan, the latest being in 2008. Ironically, Turkey has done this in part with the use of Israeli bought unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The result has been loss of civilian life, property and livestock. Iraqi Kurds, in those areas bombed and raided, are now displaced in their own country, too afraid to return to their villages because of Turkish heavy handed tactics.

This obvious double standard and contradictory attitude of the Turkish state raises a number of questions, such as; What is it that distinguishes Hamas so fundamentally from the PKK that Erdogan and Turkey feel the need to champion them? What is it the PKK is not doing that Hamas is doing? Could it be the extremist hard-line approach of calling for the destruction of Israel? or maybe the firing of rockets on Israeli civilian areas?

Additionally, what constitutes “state terrorism” to the Turks? The killing of 9 people on a ship heading towards a naval blockade? is the imprisonment of children, 14 or 15 years old just for throwing stones and shouting slogans, not state terrorism? taking away someone’s childhood because of mere sticks and stones, as well as words? What about the constant bombardment of neighboring countries, killing civilians, with the excuse of fighting ‘terrorism’?

Despite all this, what one could call hypocrisy, Turkey maintains its hostile stance towards Israel whilst conveniently ignoring its own domestic issues. They champion one militant group, Hamas, yet deny engaging their own home grown one, the PKK.

Well they have not totally ignored the domestic issues in relation to the recent flotilla incident. Turkish intelligence services are now suggesting there could be a link between Israel and the PKK’s actions. Maybe someone should remind them who it was that helped capture the leader of the PKK for Turkey in 1999.