Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Friendly relations and then some

This Article was originally published by Kurdistan Tribune. Here is the Link.  @RaberYAziz

I was a junior undergrad student in 2007 when a journalist from a Dutch radio station who worked on a report about Kurds and Kurdistan asked me as a Kurd what I thought about an independent Kurdish state. My answer was as follows: having a Kurdish state without the blessings of the neighboring countries, even if the whole world recognizes it, is like sitting in a room with no windows, doors or exits. That Kurdistan – and I mean both the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and the greater Kurdistan as well – is a landlocked enclave and all of its interactions and trade with the outside world had to be either through airspaces, or across the soils of Turkey, Syria, Iraq or Iran. I told the journalist that an independent Kurdish state was the dream of every Kurd. However, I didn’t want us to rush into a declaration of independence without first building friendly relations with the neighboring nations through mutual understanding and interests.

 For a long time after the Kurdistan Region gained self-rule in northern Iraq, the neighboring countries were not happy with this. They all tried to meddle in its internal affairs, and maybe still do. Saddam Hussein was a permanent threat and there was the Turkish military’s continued transgression on its soil ostensibly to attack the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). But, in 2004, Kurdistan Region was officially recognized by the Iraqi Constitution which made it irreversible. Saddam Hussein was gone, but Turkish officials still referred to Kurdistan as “Northern Iraq” and continued denying a Kurdistan Region and the Kurdish identity.

With the Justice and Development Party (AKP) coming to power in Turkey, that Turkish attitude changed too. Kurdish classes are now offered and a state-run Kurdish language TV is operational, Recep Teyyip Erdogan has tried to introduce more reforms, which are not huge but better than nothing. And Turkey is a major trade partner of the Kurdistan Region today. Erdogan officially invited the President of the Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani, to Diyarbakir, the largest predominantly Kurdish city in Turkey, where they spoke about friendly relations and “Turkish-Kurdish brotherhood.”

It was a historical moment to see Barzani in Diyarbakir. No one should deny that – not even those who looked at the intertwined politics that Barzani needed Erdogan’s support in his own ambitions to push oil deals with the neighboring country without going back to Baghdad, or that Erdogan needed Barzani to gain votes from the Kurdish southeast of the country as parliamentary elections are expected to be held in March. Barzani was received by Erdogan as more than just an ally to his AKP party in the Middle East. He was received as an equal counterpart and that has its significance.

Also, Erdogan for the first time referred to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq as “Iraqi Kurdistan” which I am not suggesting, as some enthusiasts have suggested, it is a sign that Kurdistan is on the right track towards becoming a fully independent country. Rather, the denial policy practiced by the Turkish governments in the past is gradually vanishing and friendly relations are becoming stronger and stronger. It is for that very reason that Turkish hardline nationalists now call Erdogan a traitor. Some have gone so far as accusing Erdogan of splitting Turkey and helping Kurds establish the Greater Kurdistan.

After six years, I still hold the same view that an independent Kurdistan, without friendly relations with its neighbors, is unimaginable because Kurdistan is surrounded by those countries that can literally impose sanctions on it and cut it off from the rest of the world if they so wished. However, I would like to add one more line to it now: besides friendly relations with neighboring countries, Kurdish leaders and their fans need to overcome their own denial attitudes towards other Kurdish leaders, parties and factions.

In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Erbil is recognized by its leaders as the capital of the Kurdistan Region, and of the greater Kurdistan. In Turkey’s Kurdistan, and in particular by the PKK and its sympathizers, Diyarbakir is. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Iraq describes Barzani as the supreme leader of the Kurdish nation, PKK and its sympathizers give Abdullah Ocalan the same titles, while many Iranian Kurds constantly refer to Qasemlu, leader of the KDP-Iran who was assassinated by Iranian intelligence in Austria, as the leader of the Kurds despite his being dead.

While Barzani’s KDP media, in addition to the Turkish media close to Erdogan’s AKP party, praised both leaders and their friendly relations and achievements, the PKK media, and the PKK sympathizer Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) of Turkey harshly criticized Barzani for refuting the PKK-affiliate Democratic Union Party (PYD)’s recent interim administration in Syria. An object of criticism by the BDP leaders was also the fact that Barzani responded to Erdogan’s call to visit Diyarbakir when hundreds of the city’s sons are still in jail on charges of working with the PKK, while he turned down an invitation from the BDP to participate in the Nawroz (Kurdish New Year) celebrations in Diyarbakir.

At the heart of the competition is the Barzani-Ocalan rivalry.

Everybody is partly to blame for this rivalry and lack of unity among Kurds. The PYD/PKK accuse Barzani and his KDP party of family rule and having a monopoly of power, politics and trade in Kurdistan, yet they are doing the same in Syria. I know that the PYD is the most popular force on the ground in Syria, and I know that as the first power there it has the right to be the one dominating politics and administration. But they have no excuse for marginalizing all other Kurdish parties that seem to disagree with the PYD, however small – at least not until elections are held to see which party has a popular base and deserves to be called a political party and deserves to be part of the administration and how much power each party should have. The same is true of the KDP and Barzani as well. Barzani has done everything in his power to put pressure on the PYD in Syria, from blocking the border crossings and banning Saleh Muslim, the PYD leader, from entering Kurdistan, to adopting political attitudes that show enmity for the PYD, including refuting the recent interim administration announced by the PYD to carve out a Kurdish region in Syria.

One more issue is that, in his recent visit, Barzani failed to consider the frustration it would cause to the BDP/PKK and other independent Kurdish leaders in the country – that they would feel marginalized and excluded. Erdogan and his government did not take PKK and its jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan for granted, so why should Barzani do that? Erdogan accepted Ocalan as an interlocutor in the peace process and has been holding talks and striking deals with them, so why shouldn’t Barzani do the same? This is not to suggest that he has never tried to hold talks with Turkey’s Kurdish leaders, rather Barzani – as an iconic Kurdish leader – should try harder to bring all Kurdish leaders together especially in compliance with his own ambitions to become the supreme leader of the Kurds everywhere.

The BDP is a popular party and its views should matter a lot to Barzani. It garnered about 2.8 million votes in the Turkish parliamentary elections in 2011, which is more than twice the votes Barzani’s KDP received in the Kurdistan Region elections this year. I am not forgetting the number of Kurdish voters in Kurdistan of Iraq and Turkey and therefore this should not mean that they are more popular than Barzani in the Kurdish world, but it should certainly mean that they are a popular force with massive support and a huge fan base in Turkey and the Kurdish world. This should testify that the BDP leaders should not be taken for granted, nor should the PKK. Just a few days ago 20,000 Kurds marched in Germany calling on the German government to reconsider its ban on the PKK.

What angered the Kurdish leaders of Turkey was that Barzani’s visit seemed to send the message that Erdogan and Barzani can bring about peace in the region without going back to the BDP or PKK. This may not have been the intention of Barzani, but it certainly did send this message and this was clear from the BDP and PKK leaders’ reactions.

Salahattin Demirtas said that “those who say they went to Diyarbakir to deliver some messages to the Kurdish people should respect the sacrifices of this land (Diyarbakir) they have stepped on. “ He also said, in what appeared to be a response to Barzani’s comment that he wouldn’t be able to go and speak in Turkey some 15 years ago but is now able to do so thanks to Erdogan: “If children and mothers of Diyarbakir had not turned each and every neighborhood of the city into an uprising and resistance field, nobody would be able today to deliver any messages here. Everybody should know on what soil they stand before speaking”

Here is why Demirtas and other BDP and PKK leaders are frustrated: Barzani went to Turkey and talked about Turkish-Kurdish brotherhood when the BDP and PKK leaders were sidelined, when the BDP/PKK still strongly disapprove of Erdogan’s reform packages and are highly dissatisfied with it and want to press for more. But the Barzani visit seems to legitimize what Erdogan has given so far. How would Barzani feel if Turkey’s Kurdish leaders visited the disputed city of Kirkuk in Iraq and talked about Arab-Kurdish brotherhood and said that it was time for peace and, whether intentionally or unintentionally, sent the message that what is there for Kurds in the city is enough and they should be content with what they have? I know that I would be angry if a Kurd from Turkey, Syria or Iran told me that Iraqi Kurds should stop whining about Kirkuk, move on and be content with what is already there. I know that we Kurds are one nation, but we did not all fight as one nation for Kirkuk, only Iraqi Kurds did and therefore it is not up to Turkey’s Kurds or Iranian Kurds to decide what’s best for Kirkuk, it is up to us Iraqi Kurds.

As long as we are looking at having Kurdistan regions with autonomous powers within their states rather than one independent Kurdistan, I think the same is true for Turkey’s Kurds, and Syria’s Kurds. They know better what is best for them and only they should have the right to decide that because, in the same way, only they fought for Kurdish rights in Turkey and not the whole of the Kurdish nation as one. One might say Mustafa Barzani, Massoud Barzani’s father, fought alongside Qazi Mohammed during the Mahabad Republic in 1946. But I am not talking about that long ago, I am talking about recent years, and besides, when Barzani joined Qazi Mohammed, the Kurdish regions in the four countries had not become as distinctive as they are today and Kurds still strived for one independent Kurdistan state rather than Kurdistan regions with autonomous powers.

I see Barzani’s recent Turkey visit as a positive event for Kurds in general, and the Kurdistan Region in particular. Kurds need to build friendly relations with Turks, Arabs and Persians if they ever want to have their own independent state. However, Kurdish leaders and their supporters should stop denying each other because they do not agree. Differences are not bad, they are just differences. And a supreme Kurdish leader is a matter of relativity as long as there is not an independent Greater Kurdistan where polls can be held to determine this.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Towards a National Anthem for Kurdistan

This article was originally published by Kurdistan Tribune. Here is the Link.

Recently, I watched a short video footage of the late Kurdish singer Ahmet Kaya in which he is to be named as the Musician of the Year in Turkey. Kaya appears on stage as he receives the award and says, “I am receiving this award on behalf of everyone struggling for human rights. In my next album, I will sing in Kurdish and will make a Kurdish video clip. I am sure there are courageous TV people who will air this.”

But no sooner had he said  this than he was showered with swear words by the attending Turk artists. Some of them shouted angrily that there is nothing called “Kurd” or “Kurdish language”. Others waived their hands in the air as they spoke unintelligibly because of the uproar of the audience. Kaya was speechless. It was heart breaking. Later I did a little research: reading  related articles, watching other videos. I found out that on that night Kaya was also pelted with forks and spoons by the attendants and that he barely survived an attack by some of the attendants. He was also pounded by the mainstream Turkish media as a “traitor”, and was also prosecuted on false charges and sent into exile in France where he died the following year, of a heart attack. 

Today, I read on one Kurdish news outlet that Turkey’s Nationalist People’s Party (MHP) opposes efforts to have a Kurdish language dictionary printed by the state printing and publishing facility. Mehmet Gunal of the MHP has reportedly said in the Turkish parliament that recognizing Kurdish language divides the state language and serves as a step toward federalism in the country. I understood the Kurdish sentiment behind the article. I am also a Kurd and all that denial of the Kurdish identity, culture and language is very relatable. It was heart breaking again. I can’t understand how a person can deny the ethnic and cultural identity of someone else. How can you hold so much hate for someone else based on the fact that they are different from you one way or another?

I tried very hard to imagine myself doing to a non-Kurd those things the Turkish audience did to Kaya, and I couldn't. And I believe that no Kurds - who have seen decades of discrimination, denial, and forced assimilation - should be able to imagine that. But as much as I love this to be true with every single Kurd, it is still far from reality. Disagree with me? well, here is what was also going on recently:

A few members of the Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG) – an opposition party in the Kurdistan Parliament – did not stand up in a Kurdistan parliament meeting when the Kurdish Anthem was played. They based their rejection of the anthem on grounds that it contained blasphemy, and later in an attempt to divert all of the criticism some of their brethren said it did not represent all ethnic groups in Kurdistan. This stirred outrage among the nationalist Kurds on social media networks and has been further hyped up by the media close to the secular Kurdish parties.

Now, the point here is not to defend the Islamic MPs for what they did. I am not an Islamist person and I do not appreciate what those Islamic MPs did on such grounds that the lyrics of the anthem contain blasphemy, because I have always been of the opinion that poetry should not be treated within rigid frameworks of right and wrong, good and bad. I have also been of the opinion that those Islamic party members generally spend more time worrying about such trivial things than on understanding the poem's historical and political context. I believe “Ey Reqib” is the “Kurdish” anthem, I honor it, and stand up to its playing. But, I do not believe it is a good anthem for Kurdistan because it is sung specifically for Kurdish ethnics.

And we know that Kurdistan, as in “Kurdistan Region” which is a federal region in northern Iraq, has a diverse ethnic and religious makeup. Let me explain. Kurds, Arabs, Turkmans, Assyrians, Syriac, Chaldean and Armenians live in Kurdistan and they hold such faiths as Islam, Christianity, Yezidism, Kakayi and Atheism. Ey Reqib is full of praise for the Kurdish valor, bravery, struggle of the Kurdish people, fight for freedom of Kurdish people, the Kurdish identity, the Kurdish language. Below is some excepts form the anthem:

"... the Kurdophone people still remain.."
"Kurdish people stand up valiantly.."
"We are sons of Medya and Kaykhusraw" - In reference to the mesopotamian poeple and empire of the same name that Kurds consider to be the ancesstors of Kurds.

Did you notice any patterns? It is all “Kurdish” and not diverse as is the “Kurdistan Region”

On many occasions, Kurdish political leaders – and I mean all of them including the Islamic and secular and nationalist leaders alike, and at the top of the list, President of Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani – have stressed that Kurdistan is not only the land of “Kurds” but also of all the other ethnic groups that live in Kurdistan. And history proves that and I support that statement. 

Now, can you, as a Kurd who has seen discrimination, denial, and forced assimilation by the Iraqi Arab nationalist governments, Turkish fascist governments and Persian regimes, imagine why Ey Reqib is not a good national anthem for Kurdistan Region?

If the answer is ‘yes’, then I believe this has reminded you that the anthem is hurting other minority groups in Kurdistan and it should be replaced. That does not mean that we have to give it up altogether. We can still retain it as the “Kurdish” anthem – “Kurdish” as in “that which pertains to Kurds”, as opposed to the “Kurdistan national anthem” where Kurdistan is a federal region - or hopefully an independent country in the future - with a mixed ethnic structure.There needs to be this distinction between an anthem for Kurdistan (the diverse region) and an anthem for Kurds (the homogeneous ethnic group)

I am assuming that there will not be a flat “No” answer, but rather something like “Yes I understand, BUT… "

But there is only one humanely right answer.

If you are thinking that Ey Reqib should still be the national anthem of Kurdistan (whether as the federal region, or the independent state), then I beg you to consider this: If you are old enough to remember the Baath Regime in Iraq and the then-Iraqi national anthem – I remember singing it in school, though not its connotations – How did you like it when you heard the anthem glorifying the “Arab land” and its “Arab headscarf” and how the “Arab sands” kindled a “revolution”?

If your answer is that you did not hate it and believed it was okay because it was the national anthem, then you were either too young to know, like I was, or too busy to be worrying about it for whatever reason, or you were simply, by today's nationalist standards, a fake Kurd, a traitor, a jash (like people used to refer to Kurds who worked with the Arab Iraqi governments) 

And if you hated it and yet still want Ey Reqib to remain as the anthem of Kurdistan then you are doing nothing different from what Saddam Hussein and the repressive governments of Iraq, Turkey and Iran did – and may be still doing – to Kurds for decades. You have taken the exact same steps.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The New York Times fancy map of how five countries in the Middle East could become fourteen

The New York Times has published a potential new map of the Middle East which looks good to me as a Kurd. But it looks more like wishful thinking than a real evaluation because I think it is far more complicated than this simply put by the New York Times. I think the person who drew this map was thinking about the issues in the Middle East more like "I think this is the best solution for all the issues" rather than "I think this is what is going to happen because of this and that". The issue here is that other than Kurds in the Middle East, every body else wants a "unified country" than seeing the country be divided into smaller countries or regions.

Americans suggested that Iraq be divided into three federal regions, Sunni, Shite, Kurdish, in order to overcome disputes but it was rejected by Sunnis and many Shites alike, other than Kurds. Sunnis who are now minorities in Iraq are the most ferocious opposers of this division into three regions or possible states.  They never stop complaining about the powers of the central Shiite held government yet they stress on one central government. The issue here is that each one claims that they want a unified country, but one which gives them the power to rule. Shites want a unified country ruled by Shiites, Sunnis consider different federal regions and division a blasphemy and they want a unified country, looking back on it with nostalgia how great Iraq was under Sunni rule. The same thing applies to Syria as well. Sunnis Arabs who form the majority see the opportunity to rule the whole country as the Shiites did in Iraq after the 2003 fall of Saddam so they will never give up on a unified Syria. Kurds want at least autonomy, or a Kurdish region government by a Kurdish government within Syria just like in Iraq, but Sunni Arabs vehemently oppose it.

Other than that, if this could be accepted by all, I do believe [like the editor might have thought than evaluated the issues] that it is a good solution to the turmoils in the Middle East.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A group of young Kurds from Iraqi Kurdistan decide to go to Syria for "Jihad for Kurdistan" against al-Qaeda linked groups

A group of young Kurds from Iraqi Kurdistan have announced in a video posted on youtube to go to Syria to do "Jihad for Kurdistan" against al-Qaeda linked groups the Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which are currently fighting alongside some other groups against the Kurdish forces not submitting to the JN/ISIS.

In the video, nine young masked Kurds appear before a flag that is raised by the the People's Defense Units (YPG) the military wing of the Democratic Union of Kurdistan (PYD) - the main Kurdish party in Syria that controlling the Kurdish territories. 

The YPG has been in a deadly fight with the JN/ISIS and some other groups linked with them for a few weeks now. The JN/ISIS and other rebel groups accuse the YPG of working with Mr Bashar al-Assad against the rebels because they do not help the rebels in overthrowing Assad. YPG denies such claims and asserts that they are protecting Kurdish territories and are not willing to fight elsewhere. 

Recently JN/ISIS fighters killed at least 26 Kurds in the villages of Tal Hassil and Tal Aran which Syrian Kurds have called a massacre and an ethnic cleansing in the villages with mixed groups. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the numbers and also said rebels fighters detained Kurds and handed them over to JN/ISIS in the city of al-Safeera who reportedly tortured them. SOHR also said "family members of the killed and wounded refrain from reporting the murder of injury of their relatives out of fear from the ISIS, al-Nusra and rebel fighters attacks, who usually detain them, as has been the case for over 250 citizens from the towns of Tal'arn and Tal Hasil. "

One of the young men reads a statement from a paper in Sorani Kurdish. He starts the statement by "Jihad for Kurdistan". he defines Jihad as "Jihad is defense, revenge and honor"

"The Kurds in Syria have been able for the past two years to strengthen their foothold democratically. but the occupying forces and those who grudge the achievements of our nation continuously attack our people and commit genocide against us in the most brutal way"

"Even in the holy month of Ramadan they did not stop their attacks" the man says and goes on to blame the Kurdish forces in Iraqi Kurdistan for being silent and not doing anything about it. 

"Just like when Anfal campaign (genocide against Kurds in Iraq) was carried out by the Baath regime in South Kurdistan (Iraqi Kurdistan), now the same is being committed against Kurds by the militia groups with the support of NATO, the US and Turkey" 

"we have decided.... to join the ranks of the YPG and lay down our lives in its way. Those who do not have a homeland do not have honor and dignity. Those those attack Kurds children are Arab fascists, agents of the United States.. they use word Jihad but this a betrayal of Islam and humanity... and when a person, people or group is attacked and they do not show any self-defense then thy have no honor" 

The man goes on again to criticize the Kurdish government in Iraq and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in particular. the KDP currently holds the prominent government posts in Kurdistan such as the Prime Minister, Ministry of the Interior and the President of Kurdistan Region. The KDP is the "servant of Turkey and the US"

Monday, August 5, 2013

Egyptian series rekindles Kurdish outrage over case of 18 Kurdish women being sent into sex slavery by Iraqi regime in 1989

An Episode of an Egyptian series Niran Sadeeqa [Friendly Fire] that is aired on the Saudi channel MBC for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan has rekindled a public outrage among Kurds on social networks recently about the story of 18 Kurdish girls and women who were sent to Egypt by the Saddam Hussein regime to be forced into sex slavery about a quarter of a century ago.

Khurasan Abdullah (top) and her daughter Chiman
(A little girl in the ID photo) And below the photos
is the Iraqi intelligence secret letter from the Kirkuk office
to the main office in Baghdad and below that is the  wearing
photo page of the Iraqi ID of Chiman whose Mother's
name Khurasan Abdullah also appears on the same page
In the scene, a young Egyptian protagonist appears talking to a man who is apparently working for his father about how 18 Kurdish girls and women who were captured by the Saddam Hussein regime in the Anfal operations in Kurdistan ended up in his night club. The man replies that he has no authority and that he is just following orders [the protagonist's father]. When the protagonist talks to his father how and why he had accepted to force the Kurdish women into working in the night club, the father replies “Son, isn't it better for them [to live] than to die like others [Kurds] who die on a daily basis [in Iraq]?” referring to the Anfal operations.

No, it is better for them to die. At least they die martyrs. It is more honorable for them to die than to be forced into working in the night club” the young man replies to his father.

Anfal was a series of military operations aimed at crushing the Kurdish revolt in the 1980s. In the campaign, the Iraqi army destroyed 5,000 Kurdish villages and rounded up up to 182,000 civilian Kurds among them women and children, killed them and buried them in mass graves.

The mention of the Kurdish girls and women created a public outrage especially because an Iraqi intelligence document surfaced on the social networks a few years ago according to which the Kirkuk provincial office confirmed to the general intelligence office in Baghdad that they had sent the women to Egypt to be used in the “night clubs” and the document included a list of the names of all the girls and women who aged between 14 and 29 years.

The letter from the Kirkuk office which is dated December 20th 1989 and is addressed to the general intelligence office, states: “After [receiving] immediate authorization from the political leadership and carrying out the First Anfal and Second Anfal operations, in which a group of different people were captured among them a group of girls whose ages range between (14 – 29), we have, as per your orders, sent a number of those girls to the brothels and night clubs in the Arabic Republic of Egypt as you ordered. Attached is a list of the names of those girls and their ages for your reference”

All those years the surviving families of the girls and women thought their loved ones had been killed in the Anfal campaign until the intelligence document which is marked "highly clasified" appeared on the social media.

The Kurdish authorities did not launch any investigations into finding the women in Egypt or what happened to them when the document surfaced for the first time following the 2003 Iraq war, according to Bestoon Fayaq, a political activist and advocate for the families of the Anfal victims. Fayaq said the authorities even dismissed the document as fake and said no Kurdish girls or women had been sent to Egypt.

The Kurdish leadership lied to us” Fayaq has said (Niha24). “A few years ago... we asked Jalal Talabani, Iraqi President (a Kurd) to verify the authenticity of the news [that Kurdish women were sent to Egypt] and he assured us that he had contacted Egypt and that there was no such thing. Then we asked Adnan Mufti, former Kurdish Parliament Chairman [to investigate the news] and he answered the same way” (Sbeiy)

Fayaq said the mentioning of the 18 Kurdish girls and women was evidence that the story was true otherwise why would it be brought up in an Egyptian series.

Following up on the story of the 18 Kurdish girls and women, Sbeiy news outlet – which is associated with the opposition party Gorran – released ID information of three of the names listed on the document including ID photos of two of them whose only surviving member of the family had survived the Anfal campaign.

Three of the names on the list are Chiman Nazim Abbas, Layla Abbas Jawhar and Khorasan Abdullah Tawfiq. Sbeiy has identified a man in Sulaimaniyah city named Karim Abbas Jawhar who claims he is the brother of Leyla Abbas Jawhar, uncle of Chiman Nazim Abbas and brother-in-law of Khurasan Abdullah Tawfiq who is also the mother of Chiman Nazim Abbas.

According to Sbeiy, Mr Karim has called on the Kurdish authorities to investigate the fate of his family members but they had let him down. Despite legal attempts by Mr Karim, his case has been closed by the authorities, Sbeiy reports.

Kurdistan Without Genocide, an NGO advocating the Anfal victims, called on the KRG in a statement to immediately cut ties with Egypt until the authenticity of the document is verified (Niha24)

Three other NGO that advocate the Anfal victims have warned the KRG to take action and return the 18 girls and women to Kurdistan or they will have "tough reactions"and will take "legal procedures" against the KRG (KNNC)

The Kurdistan Regional Government's Minister of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs Aram Ahmed Mohammed has pledged to pursue the case of the 18 Kurdish women after the family of another member of the 18 women pleaded with the ministry to disclose the fate of their family member.

Abdul Khaliq Qader Aziz is another person who survived Anfal and is claiming one of the women listed in the document, Esmat Qader Aziz, to be his sister. Acording to a statement released by the Ministry, Mr Abdul Khaliq has visited the Ministry and met with the Minister and personally asked him to pursue the fate of his sister and other 17 women.

"The ministry will make all efforts to pursue the case in order to reach the truth of this news seriously, so the Minister if Martyrs and Anfal and a group of families of the victims will visit Consulate of Republic of Egypt in the capital Erbil to pursue the case as a first step” the minister has said in a statement quoted Shafaq News.
Names of the girls and women and their ages as listed in the Iraqi intelligence letter:

Galawej Adel Rahim (14)
Chiman Nazim Abaas (22)
Leyla Abbas Jawhar (21)
Lamiah Nazim Omar (19)
Bahman Shukir Mustafa (26)
Khusaran Abdullah Tawfiq (20)
Qadriyah Ahmed Ibrahim (17)
Golmalek Ibrahim Ali (19)
Khawla Ahmed Fakhradeen (25)
Esmat Qader Aziz (24)
Najiba Hassan Ali (18)
Hasiba Ameen Ali (29)
Shiler Hassan Ali (20)
Shukriyah Rustem Mohammad (27)
Habiba Hidayat Ibrahim (15)
Kuwestan Abbas Mawlud (26)
Serwa Othman Karam (17)
Soza Majeed (22)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Russia-US rivalry in Syria and Kurdish autonomy

Last year, Russia and China vetoed a UN security council resolution to impose economic sanctions on Syria because it failed to yield to peace plans. The US ambassador Susan E. Rice called it a “dark day” because “we have missed yet another critical opportunity to work together”. The United States was a very keen on removing Mr. Assad and the resolution included some severe punishments including sanctioning on the Syrian government under the UN's Chapter Seven which allows for external military intervention in the country to enforce Security Council demands.

Russia saw the sanctions as opening the door for military intervention and therefore could not accept it. The United States saw this reality and therefore in August that year, according to a Reuters report, US President Barack Obama signed a “secret” order to support Syrian rebels bring Assad down. According to the report, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey in Adana city, about 60 miles from the Syrian border.

Now that the fighting between the Assad regime and rebels is in it third year, the US has abandoned its plans for a sanction under UN Charter's Chapter 7 which allow for direct military intervention knowing that such a UN resolution will not easily be accepted by Russia to whom Bashar Assad has been a long time ally and Russian weapons buyer. But almost a year after it first authorized secret support for Syrian rebels, it officially announced support alongside 10 other countries including Saudi Arabia, for the Syrian rebels taking the Russian-US one step up. Russia on the other hand announced support for Syria's Kurds who are currently in a severe fight with the Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – both of these groups are al Qaeda affiliates -, and the al-Faruk Brigade, which is part of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) but joined hands with the other two groups to fight the Kurdish forces called the YPG (Poeple's Defense Units) supported by the PYD (Democratic Union Party) that's believed to be an off-shoot of the Leninist-Marxist PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party). The YPG is trying to impose Kurdish control over the Kurdish territories in Syria as the preliminary stage for autonomy or self-administration which the US opposes.

The past week witnessed, and continues to see more, intensified fighting between JN/ISIS on the one hand and the YPG and the Jabhat Akrad one the other. Jahat Akrad was part of the FSA but defected to fight on the YPG side against the JN/ISIS after the Kurds reported attacks by the JB/ISIS on the Kurdish residents.

US and Russian rhetoric on the clashes between the two sides is already polarized with Russia condemning the attacks by the JN/ISIS and showing support for the Kurds, while the US State Department said it watched the developments and was concerned that the violence could spill over to some of the neighboring countries in the region. The US State Department also voiced concern over plans by the PYD to establish a Kurdish administration in the Kurdish areas until the war in the country is over.

According to reports, dozens have been killed in the clashes, mostly from the JN/ISIS, and the Kurdish YPG forces have made swift advances in the mostly Kurdish populated areas around Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ain) city and Gre Spi (Tal Abyad).

Russia directly showed support for the Kurdish people and the YPG fight against the al-Qaeda affiliates. The Russian foreign Ministry was also very specific in describing the actions of the JN/ISIS who “ started to kill innocent people by cutting off their heads,”a statement by the foreign ministry said, “Kurds had to free Abu Musab in exchange for an agreement to release hostages.”

"Moscow strongly condemns the atrocities of international terrorists in northeastern Syria and the excesses and abuses perpetrated by extremists against a peaceful Kurdish population which is not involved in the ongoing political and military conflict in Syria,"

According to Koshan Zamani, a Kurdish political activist and observer, the reason for Russia's support for the Kurds is obvious: “[The existence of] al-Qaeda has never served, and never will serve, Russia. They have a history of conflict and war. Besides, the Kurds were a neutral force in Syria and this served the extension of Bashar Assad's regime, and by extension the supremacy of Russia in the area.”

Russia is also trying to enlist Kurds for the Geneva II peace conference. On June 2, a delegation from the Supreme Kurdish Council (SKC), a body that unites Kurdish parties from Syria,went on an official visit to Syria to meet Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov in Moscow (source) in order to get help from Russia for a place for Syrian Kurds in the peace conference.

Alan Semo, a PYD member has told al-Monitor that Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has promised them that “without you [the Kurds], there will not be any meeting in Geneva,”

Acording to Ahmed Suleiman, a spokesman of the Supreme Kurdish Council, “Russia respects the Kurdish people in Syria and recognizes that the Kurds are following a legitimate struggle. The existence of the Kurdish people is denied and in the new Syrian constitution, the rights of Kurds must be recognized.”

The United States, Turkey's long time ally on the other hand does not support a Kurdish autonomy in Syria and is not happy about Kurdish control in northeast of Syria along the Turkish border and YPG gains on the JN/ISIS despite their knowledge of al-Qaeda fighters being among the ranks of the Jihadi Islamist groups. Al-Nusra and ISIS are publicly affiliated with the al-Qaeda.

In a statement posted on the US State Department website, US State Dept spokesperson Jen Psaki said "We’re very concerned by press reports indicating that the Kurdish Democratic Union might declare an independent Kurdish region in Syria. Such a declaration is highly provocative, as it will certainly exasperate tensions between Arabs and Kurds and give excuse for extremists to exploit the situation. So we’re also watching that and we’re concerned about that as well."

But she had nothing to say about the ISIS (technically al-Qaeda) and Kurdish clashes other than "We continue to follow reports that Syrian Kurds are fighting ISIS in the Raqqah province. We’ve been very clear about our concerns over the regional instability calls by the crisis in Syria and the propensity for spillover violence. We’re obviously watching events on the ground all across Syria very closely."

Zamani told Kurdish Observer the United States does not support Kurds in Syria because the US is more interested in the “bigger interests”. “No matter how much bloodshed there is in Syria, they [US] still prefer one [unified] country to a Kurdish opposition group who are a minority in the country as compared to the Sunni and Alevite Arabs. Therefore, the US is not ready to support Kurds. The US has long been in disagreement with the Kurdish interests because Kurds are a minority in the Middle East. The US wants to see a stable Middle East, any claims of human rights and any such things are merely slogans and will not see US support if they are not in he interest of the United States”

According to Zamani, Syria has long been the ground for Russian-US rivalry. Russia is represented by the Bashar Assad regime, and the United States is represented by the rebel groups. But why has the United States not taken military action to resolve the issue? Is it because it fears that Russia will back Mr Assad even in a US-Syria conflict? Koshan Zamani says “no”

The thing is United States is not sure about the future of Syria. Chances are the Islamists will accede to power and the US is not ready to leave Syria for Islamists... if the US wants to remove Assad militarily, they can do it easily and Russia will hand it over to them. But the change in regime will not benefit the US and Israel”


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Kurdish fighters went to Syria to fight Assad but "were used by al-Nusra and ISIS to fight Kurdish militias"

Scores of young Kurdish fighters from Iraqi Kurdistan, Sulaimaniyah province, went to Syria to fight the Assad regime recently as the fighting between the Assad forces and rebels intensified. However they found themselves fighting a different force, one of their own ethnic group and language, the YPG (People's Protection Units), this is according to an interview by the Sterk TV with three young Kurdish fighters who claimed they laid down their weapons when coming in contact with Kurdish-speaking forces on the confrontation lines. The fighters are in YPG detention now.

All the Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria through Turkey using their Iraqi passports. One of the three fighters appearing in the video says he entered Syria through Tal Abyad where he joined the Faruk Brigade and was given a gun and sent to the battle ground.

"They told us that the TV report that there was a battle near Tal Tamar between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Assad regime.  It was about 12 midnight we went to this village near Tal Tamar where we stayed in a room until morning, about 7 or 8 am when there was gunfire. There we found out they were Kurds and we laid down our weapons because we came here to fight Bashar Assad not Kurds"

Another one of the young men says "we came here to liberate the Syrian people form Bashar Assad regime including the Kurds who are part of Syria.. But when we came here they [al-Nusra and ISIS] did not tell us where you are, Ras al-Ain…. there are Kurds, they said there were Bashar Assad regime [forces]. And when we went they told us that we were going to fight against Bashar Assad forces. It was about 12 midnight when we went there to fight, I called on my Kurdish friends in Kurdish and they [al-Nusra and ISIS] told me 'don't speak Kurdish"

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Jihadist from Iraqi Kurdistan Region captured by the YPG Kurdish fighters in Syria

A Kurdish Jihadist fighter, believed to be one of dozens who have infiltrated into Syria through Turkey ostensibly to fight against the Assad regime, has been captured by the Kurdish armed group YPG (People's Protection Units) that's close to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). 

The young man identifies himself as Mohammed Ali Sadiq from Sharazur area, Sulaimaniyah province. Media outlets close to the PKK said the man was captured in fights between the Jihadist al-Nusra Front and the YPG over territorial conflicts in Sare Kaniye (Ras al--Ain).

YPG, a secular nationalist Kurdish group, has been in a deadly fight with the Jihadist groups that include al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and according to YPG reports some Syria Kurdish groups as well. YPG sources claim that up to 100 al-Nusra Jihadists have so far been killed and many captured. The group also reported 15 deaths among its ranks.

YPG is fighting for Kurdish control over the Kurdish areas of Syria and ultimately an autonomous region similar to that in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.
The Kurdish Jihadist captured by the YPG says in the video posted on Youtube that he was "deceived" because he was told that he would be fighting the Assad regime but he found himself fighting Kurdish forces. 

YPG and PKK social media outlets said the Kurdish Jihadists were recruited in Halabja area, in Sulaimaniyah province, by some clerics and operatives of the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK) and the Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG) - two political Islamist groups in Kurdistan Region. Media outlets close to the two parties have not said anything about it.

"In return for any young man going [to Syria], the clerics and [IMK and KIG] officials will receive gifts and money from the MIT (Turkish intelligence agency) and the al-Qaeda organization" one PKK page called PKK Fans in the South [PKK Fans in Iraqi Kurdistan] accuses the two parties. 

Firat News Agency, close to the PKK, says the man is one 87 Jihadists from Kurdistan Region of Iraq who have ben recruited to fight in Syria.

The Jihadists says in the video "Until we arrived here I thought everybody fought Bashar Assad, but when we arrived I realized that there were so many different groups and that they made us fight against Kurds" He also says that the al-Nusra Front did not trust the Kurdish Jihadists and only used them in any way they wanted.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Ex-Presidential candidate attacked by suspected KDP agents in Erbil

Suspected agents loyal to the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in civilian attire attacked ex-Presidential candidate Kamal Said Qadir on Friday in downtown Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan Region, where he was planning to hold a protest gathering to talk to the public about the extension of Kurdish President Massoud Barzani's office for another two years as his time as President accelerated towards expiration after two full terms.

The news of the protest gathering was circulated on the media earlier this week and as Sayed Qadir headed to his destination, boxes of tomatoes and eggs already awaited him. He was first pelted with tomatoes and eggs then according to reports civilian dressed men suspected to be Parastin (Protection) agents - the intelligence police established by the KDP - physically attacked him breaking his head.

There were reports that the same men who attacked Sayed Qadir also attacked anybody with a camera photographing, or videoing the scene. Bayan Press reported that their reporter on the field said before the incident took place there were policemen in the area but they left just before the attack.

The Bayan Press reporter has also said the men took Sayed Qadir, after beating him up, in addition to another senior citizen who had dared to say "Why are you doing this to this man?" One single photo surfaced on the online news outlets and social media networks showing Kamal Said Qadir covered in egg whites and blood.

Abdulkhaliq Talaat, Erbil police chief, has told the media that people attacked him because he may have shown no respect for the conservative people of the city as they observed the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. "He came to the place drunk. There were some Syrian [Kurdish] egg-sellers and tomato-sellers there and people attacked him" Talaat has told Bayan Press, "Police were not around when he was attacked. It is true that there are police [patrols] downtown, but they were away from that area. We later took him to hospital"

Bas, a weekly newspaper that's close to the KDP, reported on its website Bas-News.net that more than 100 people attacked Sayed Qadir and pelted whim with tomatoes, eggs and yoghurt, too. The newspaper says "eyewitnesses say that Kamal Said Qadir has uttered inappropriate words about the people of Erbil and God" and according to Rudaw, another news outlet close to the KDP, the police chief has said Kamal Said Qadir "was drunk and said in appropriate words on Islam"

Kurdiu.org, a news outlet run by the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) which is also an opposition party, did not mention anything about Kamal Said Qadir uttering any words degrading or blasphemous to the Muslim faith and the fasting people of the city. Kurdiu goes on to allege that there were even policemen near the scene of the attack but they did not do anything and just looked on.

Kamal Said Qadir later told Rudaw - the video of which was posted on youtube - in hospital that he was actually fasting. "for your information, I was fasting," he told the reporter. "I just broke my fast, the doctors know this, they gave me a piece of cooky when it was 7:30 pm [time to brake the fasting in Erbil area] so I can break my fasting. This is a tactic used by all the dictatorships, they accuse someone of something that is completely baseless. What is the excuse for me to say blasphemous words in front of Machko Cafe where I suggested for the gathering? does that make any sense?… trust me I have never in my whole life…." and they do not let him finish his words but I am assuming he was going to say "I have never drunk in my whole life"
Kamal Said Qadir After Being Released 
From Hospital

Kamal Said Qadir was the first one to register with the electoral commission to run for the president post. He later dropped out due to financial and administrative issues. The elections were later put off for two years after the parliament passed laws that would extend Barzani's presidency for two years.

Mr. Barzani has been in office for eight years as President of Kurdistan Region. His KDP tried to have Barzani elected as President for another four year term causing an outrage among the opposition parties. In the following deadlock the KDP and their ally Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), who form the majority of the parliament, extended Barzani's office for another two years to give the political parties more time to agree on an amended Presidential Law and a draft Constitution before next presidential elections are held.

related articles: Barzani's not running for office statement only positive with great suspicion at best? 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Barzani's not running for presidency statement only positive with great suspicion at best?

In a written address to the people of Kurdistan on Tuesday, President of Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani implied for the first time that he will not run for office in the next Presidential elections the date of which is yet to be determined after the current term of parliament and Barzani's office were extended by the parliament for another two years.

Barzani's address comes after a period of silence as the political parties in Kurdistan, Barzani's own KDP and their ally PUK on the one hand, and the opposition parties, Gorran, IUK, KIG on the other were, and still are, locked in a heated debate over the legality of the parliament extension of the life of the current term of parliament, and the presidential term allegedly to give the political factions more time to settle the questions of whether the current presidential elections allows Barzani to run for a third term in office or not, and the question of amending the Kurdistan Constitution bill which was passed by the majority vote, KDP+PUK, in 2009.

The opposition parties accuse the KDP and PUK who have had what they call the "strategic agreement" since 2007 to rule the semi-autonomous region together, entering the elections as allies rather than rivals, of trying to keep Barzani in office for another four years without any regard for the Presidential Law which states the President can run for two terms of four years. Barzani has already served two terms in office. 

On May 5, Barzani said in an online statement that he never asked his party and their ally to try to guarantee a third term for him. That he never asked to be President but was nominated by his own party and was elected by the people of Kuridstan. But he did not explicitly say that he would not run for a third term if the KDP and PUK faction in parliament found a loop in the Presidential Law or passed new legislation allowing him  third term.
In Tuesday address, however, for the first time he implied that he will hand over his office to the "new elected president" after the parliament finds a consensus on the mechanism to amend the Kurdistan Constitution draft and the Presidential Law in on year. 

"As of now, I call on the presidency of the next parliamentary term, under the light of the letter I sent to the current term of the parliament on 12/6/2013, to immediately find in its initial meetings, after the 21/9/2013 elections [are held], a mechanism whereby in less than a year it will reach a consensus on amending the Constitution bill and the mechanism of how to elect the President of the Region. Then elections be held for a new President for the Region so we hand over the trust we hold [presidential office] to any person who wins the confidence of the people of Kurdistan." a Kurdish language version of the address posted on the Presidential website said in one paragraph.

At first look, this sounds positive that he has committed himself to handing over powers to a new President which normally means someone else not himself, but I find it not so positive when looking at the politics of Kurdistan in general and the KDP politics in particular and that's why I am saying he implied not said.

According to the address. the election of a new president is dependent on the parliament's ability to find a consensus on how to amend the Constitution bill and the mechanism of electing the president, whether through a direct vote by the people, or a two third of the parliament. The direct vote is KDP's preference and this is how Barzani was elected twice, while the two-third vote of parliament is the PUK's and is also supported by the opposition parties. The Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani - PUK leader - was elected  by a two-third parliamentary vote in the Iraqi parliament with the support of the KDP, and according to the "strategic agreement" between the KDP and PUK the President of Kurdistan would have to elected by the same mechanism by which the president of Iraq is elected, this was part of the power-sharing deal between the two parties according to documents (Kurdish and Arabic) leaked by Nawshirwan Mustafa, leader of the main opposition party Gorran who was a former PUK leadership member. 

Going back to why the President's address is not so positive. It is not that I don't trust Barzani for his words, but because I do not trust his party. Last time Barzani said he did not ask anyone to extend his office or find a way for him to remain in office for a third term, the KDP demanded that the Kurdistan Constitution bill be put to vote which deepened the crisis. The passage of the bill was interpreted by the opposition parties as giving the President a lot of powers and that it would turn the political system into a presidential one rather than a parliamentary one which currently is. And the opposition parties know well that the KDP is the strongest party in the Kurdistan Region and may well dominate the Presidency frost or quite the next few terms at least and the many powers the president would have could be used against the opposition parties in favor of the ruling party. 

The opposition was now left between the rock and the hard place. To accept a third term for Barzani or the Constitution bill being put to vote which would for sure be passed by a majority of 50+1 considering the size of the KDP and their ally PUK's fan base. The KDP has been cleverly manipulating the political arena of Kurdistan by raising a crisis whenever it is under pressure. Whenever it feels the press of the opposition parties for what wants to do, it raises another bigger crisis so that the opposition will accept the previous demands. In this case it was the Constitution draft. As the opposition parties resisted, the KDP - through by the KDP-led alliance in the parliament - introduced a second crisis on June 30: the extension of the parliament and the presidency for another two years . The two bills were passed the same day without paying any heed to the opposition MPs outrage and protests. 

Barzani was abroad when the parliament extended the life of the parliament and the presidency. Media source said Barzani would have his own observations on the two laws upon his return hence the written address on Tuesday.

Now, as I said earlier, it is not that I do not trust Barzani for his words, but his KDP.  Now that Barzani has said he will hand over power to the new elected president after the parliament has found consensus on how to elect the president or what to amend in the constitution in time frame no longer than one year, I am afraid that the KDP will introduce more crises so the day never comes when the parliament agrees on such mechanisms and this will give Barzani more time to remain in office until the issues are settled. 

The paragraph in Barzani's address sure sounds positive when poising for a while on the words "handing over" and a "new president", but stings when going over the words "consensus on the constitution [draft] and the mechanism on how to elect the President". Barzani cleverly cleverly introduces the one year time frame so that he is not accused of wanting to prolong his office yet there is no guarantee that the parliament will ever find a consensus on the Constitution draft and on the mechanism on how to elect the President that's if no more political crises do not come forth to hinder the talks on these two main issues. 

If there is no guarantee the Parliament will settle those issue, and if there is no guarantee in Barzani's address itself that he will not accept running for a third term or remaining in office longer than the one year time frame, then what is the solution? Sardar Aziz, a Kurdish author and visiting lecturer at the University College Cork Ireland, also an observer and commentator on the Kurdish politics, believes that only public pressure on Barzani can guarantee an end to his office. He has said in an article posted on Malmo Kurd website that some of what Barzani has said can only be viewed as positive with "great suspicion".

And what has got Barzani to utter those lines, according to Aziz, "is the result of the efforts of the opposition [parties], and public protests. The President will have to be held to account for these: not running for office gain, returning the Constitution [to parliament for amendment], setting his temporary office to a less than a year timeframe, provided that this is not dependent on compromises on the constitution. In that time period, Barzani's extension should expire if he succeeds, or fails, to get a consensus on the constitution,"

Sardar Aziz article

Barzani's May statement

Barzani's July address