Monday, September 17, 2012

Warfare intensifies in Turkey

In the international mass media the escalation of fighting in the Kurdish region in Turkey has been in the shadow of the Syrian crisis. June 2011 parliamentary elections were held in Turkey. People hoped that the elections would contribute to a peaceful solution in the Kurdish conflict. But things turned to opposite direction. The post-election year has been the bloodiest in Turkey since the capture of Kurdistan Workers' Party PKK’s leader Abdullah Öcalan in 1999. According to International Crisis Group, in the fighting in southeastern Turkey has died since the 2011 elections more than 700 people: about 400 PKK guerrillas, more than 200 Turkish soldiers and at least 84 civilians. In recent weeks, the situation has become even worse: on average ten soldiers die in a week. According to PKK sources, the number of deaths during the last two years has been two thousand people. In 2005, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan seemed to be ready to seek a political solution to the Kurdish question. He spoke about this during his visit in Kurdish region's largest city Diyarbakir. In the spring 2009 there were rumors that the Turkish government and the PKK representatives have informal contacts with target to start peace negotiations. Bianet news agency (which is considered to be a reliable source) referred to this in May 2009. In spring 2009 journalist Hasan Cemal of Millyet newspaper (big Turkish newspaper) interviewed PKK leader Murat Karayilan. He stated that PKK does not require constitutional amendments before the letting down weapons. Sources near to PKK said last July that Abdullah Ocalan was also involved in the informal contacts with the Turkish authorities until the 2011 elections. After the elections, these informal contacts did not continue in any form. The source stressed that PKK, for its part, had fulfilled all the matters agreed upon, in contrast than the Turkish side. Abdullah Ocalan was put to isolation after the elections. Last visitors met him in Imrali island in July last year. Ocalan has been held isolated also in the past, but never before this length of time. Kurds around the world have begun to worry in earnest as there are no news about him. Demonstrations are being organized all around the world. In England Initiative Freedom for Ocalan Committee will held a demonstration every Wednesday in London's Trafalgar Square. They compare Ocalan’s situation to the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who can now take part in Burma's politics after years of isolation. Ocalan's supporters hope that a similar arrangement could be reached also in Turkey as part of the solution to the Kurdish question. According to International Crisis Group, there is danger that Turkey will move towards a brutal anti-terrorism war. Hardening line in the Turkish side would strengthen hardliners also inside PKK - even though the organization shows in public united opinions, it is clear that behind the scenes there is a range of views, harder and softer ones. In the autonomy of the Syrian Kurds there is not now any big news to report. The Syrian Kurds proclaimed their territory autonomous in July this year. The Iraqi Kurds, the Kurds in the South, have had autonomy since 1991. Autonomy is also the aim of the Kurds in Turkey, as the co-existence with the Turks does not seem to succeed. Now, in eastern Kurdistan, or the Iranian part of Kurdistan, discussion on autonomy has also started. Rojhelat web page, near to leftist Komala-party, published an appeal to referendum about autonomy. It was signed by Iranian Kurdish intellectuals. In this petition the persons, who signed it, have come to the conclusion that for the Kurds life is impossible inside the Iranian borders; both the ruling Islamists and the opposition threatens the Kurds. One can draw only one conclusion: when the current regime in Iran is replaced by its successor, also it continues to suppress the Kurds. A petition signed by 118 people requests international organizations to arrange the referendum. They do not make a plan of how voting would take place. Referendum did not succeed in South Kurdistan: Iraqi’s so-called disputed areas (ie, the areas populated by Kurds, which are not included to the Kurdistan autonomous region, but are controlled by the Iraqi government), even that the vote is stated in the Iraqi constitution, and there were American troops, who could have controlled the voting. Eastern Kurdistan Referendum is quite unlikely to be achieved in the coming months. The Kurds have rebelled since the second division of Kurdistan in the 1920s (the first distribution took place 1514 and also after that there were rebellions). The current uprisings differ from the previous ones: now there are uprisings in many parts of Kurdistan at the same time, in the past, only one revolt was going on at a time. So there will be enough of news to report also in the future.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Van earthquake!

I have not had access to internet in many days so I write very late about the earthquake in Van. Dear friends in Van, our thoughts are with you. Let's hope that you get all the necessary help and assistance to continue your lives after this tragedy.

Also, it is important that the international community and the friends of Kurds follow the situation so that the Turkish state is not using this accident like an opportunity to increase the oppression towards the Kurdish liberation movement.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Genocide research needs a good plan

The Anfal Campaign happened twenty three years ago. No time should be wasted in documenting it: now people still remember details of Anfal but they forget more and more as the time is passing.

Collection of the memories must be done in a systematic way. My experience is that members of the Anfal families have a big need to talk about their experiences. And of course it is important that someone listens them. But research interviews must be done according a systematic plan and the target of the research must be clear.

With all the respect to Kurdish activists who document Anfal: my experience of their work is that often the main focus is to express how horrible thing Anfal was. We all agree about this. Academic research has other targets, it goes deeper. Art expresses feelings and emotions, scientific research facts. There is need for both of them. If the KRG wants Anfal to be accepted internationally as a genocide, the artistic methods are not enough despite they help the Kurds to go further in the healing process. There is need to present hard facts by academic research which is done according to international standards.

In 1918 there was a few months long civil war in my native country Finland after it had got her independence. The civil war still affects the country. New research, books, and movies are being made all the time.

The Kurdish genocide is much bigger issue than the Finnish civil war. The Kurds will document, survey and express their feelings about it for generations by methods of art, research, and civil society activities. Many different methods are necessary. Some of them are spontanous. But academic research, to be internationally respected, should not be spontanous or local. There must be a good plan to decide the priorities of the research.

And when the plan is ready, there must be enough of economical resources to make it true.

This text was published is Asos newspaper in Sulaymaniyah in Sebtember 2011.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fadime Sahindahl's grave

Fadime Sahindal's (1975-2002) murder got lots of attention in January 2002.

She was shot dead by her father in so called "honour killing". As I spend this summer in Uppsala I searched her grave.

It is in the old graveyard near the Cathedral.

The grave is easy to find because there are maps in the grave yard showing where are the graves of famous persons.

In the small grave stone is picture of a pigeon and two hands. Symbol for peace. There is also a small stone heart in her grave.

Photos: Kristiina Koivunen

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Can Kurdish leaders use the next historical opportunity?

Recent news from the Middle East reflects a widespread need for changes. The Kurds are famous for being culturally divided and unable to cooperate with each other. Now the new mass media increases their awareness of democracy and the life of other Kurds. This is a historical opportunity.

To understand the complicated situation of the Kurds, it is necessary to look at the history. After almost two thousand years of Persian rule, most of the Kurds became part of the Ottoman Empire as a result of the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514. This was the first division of Kurdistan. After that, Ottoman Sultan Selim officially recognised sixteen Kurdish emirates. For centuries, these autonomous emirates were culturally, linguistically and religiously rich.

This text was published in Asos newspaper the 18th May 2011. It is in Kurdish here:

During the Ottoman times the Kurds lacked national identity. They did not identify themselves as Kurds but as members of their family, tribe and religious group. They were in a proto-national stage. Dr. Eric Hobsbawm uses this term to describe an ethnic group’s development towards nationalism. Although the group feels that they belong together because of their mutual ethnicity, they lack a common polity. It is possible to mobilise the existing national symbols for the creation of a modern state.

In the course of the fall and the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, most of its subject peoples were able to set up their own states, but not the Kurds. With the Treaty of Sevrés, which was signed on August 20, 1920, the Kurds were promised a homeland. But the Allies, led by Great Britain and France, knew that the implementation of the Treaty would require difficult military enforcement. They were not prepared to make this commitment. The Treaty of Sevrés was a historical opportunity but the Kurdish leaders were unable to benefit of it.

The Treaty of Lausanne, signed on July 24, 1923, was the international accord, with which the Republic of Turkey was established. The word ‘Kurd’ was not even mentioned in it. Kurds were not regarded as a minority group. References to minorities were limited to non-Muslims. This was the second division of Kurdistan.

Also Iraq was established after World War I. Under a mandate from the League of Nations, the administration of Iraq was entrusted to Britain, but it adopted a policy of devolving responsibilities to an Iraqi government in 1921.

From 1918 to 1925, the Kurds lost an opportunity for statehood. They found themselves to be an unrecognised minority in Turkey and in Iraq. The Kurdish question became a frozen conflict. All the problems were left without solution, waiting for the right moment for the conflict to appear again. Now, this seems to happen. On the one hand, the Kurds move towards nationalism from proto-national level. Due to electronic mass media, satellite TV and the Internet – and especially social media like Facebook – they get information about each other and about global developments, which was totally out of their reach at the beginning of the last century. The Kurdish culture in Iraq is the most traditional and the most tribal. The Iranian Kurds are the best educated Kurds. The Kurds who live in Turkey are the most modern and the most aware in political terms, but many of them are partly assimilated into the Turkish culture. For example, many have lost their Kurdish mother tongue.

The young generation of Kurds continues the nation-building process from the point at which their grandfathers froze the issue after the days of Lausanne. On the other hand, new historic opportunities are emerging because all parts of Kurdistan are controlled by countries that are moving towards radical changes.

Since the end of the 19th century, the problem of the Kurds has been their inability to cooperate with each other. Kurdish politics is local politics. The Kurds have been rebelling against their oppressors for decades, but their uprisings have been local.

In 1991 three Kurdish provinces in South Kurdistan got autonomy after the First Gulf War in the uprising Raperin. But three Kurdish provinces - Mosul, Kirkuk and Diyala - were left outside the autonomous region. This was again a historical opportunity what the Kurdish leaders could not use. Twenty years have passed without much improvement despite United Nations decided referendum which is known as Article 140 according its status in the Iraqi constitution. If the referendum is not arranged this will be the third division of Kurdistan.

In the 1920s, Kurdish leaders could not make use of the historic opportunities, which were available during the collapse process of the Ottoman Empire. It seems that the next opportunity for the Kurds might come up soon. Dramatic changes may take place in the Middle East in the near future, taking into account the situations in Turkey, in Iraq, in Iran and in Syria. Especially the future of Iraq after the removal of the American troops is unclear.

Parag Khanna, former election advisor of Barack Obama and current director of the Global Governance Initiative, predicted 2008 that Kurds would get independent state in 2016 and 20 000 American troops would be stationed in Kurdistan by that time. He describes this vision in his book "The Second World : Empires and Influence in the New Global Order". Khanna argues that Kurdish oil and gas especially could play a desicive role in supporting the independence. Europe wants to decrease its dependency on Russian gas. Kurdish gas reserves of three to six trillion cubic meters is the source to replace the Russian gas. There is plan to build the Nabucco pipeline from Turkey to Austria to transport the Kurdish gas to Europe.

All big Kurdish parties in Iraq, Iran, and Turkey concentrate on the situation of their own geographical area. They do not have a common national agenda. However, many young Kurds - the Facebook-generation - speak about a ‘Great Kurdistan’, meaning the unification of all four parts of Kurdistan. Yet there is no movement pushing for it, except for homepages on the Internet and on Facebook.

Kurdish leaders carry a big responsibility. Can they make cooperation? Can they use the historic opportunity, which seem to be available only once in a century? Only time will tell. I am sorry to say that at the moment the situation does not look good at least here in Sulaymania: Kurds struggle with each others the same way as they have done centuries instead of learning the modern skills of negotiation. This would benefit all Kurds in defending themselves against the neighbouring states. The plan to build the Nabucco pipeline or any other outside effort does not solve the Kurdish question if the Kurds can not cooperate with each others. Instead I have heard rumors that now they obtain more guns.

One thing is clear: problems, uprisings and struggles continue until a solution is found to the Kurdish question. In North Ireland, the struggle between the Irish and the British has already continued for seven hundred years. Let us hope that the Kurdish question will not remain unsolved for so long. It is a permanent source of instability in the whole Middle East until a political solution is found.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Kurdistan needs research policy

Kurdistan is going through a transition period. It is post-dictatorship and post-genocide society. It has experienced rapid and violent change from rural way of living to urban settlements. In the 1980s people did not move voluntarily to towns. They were deported by Saddam’s soldiers. Since that many problems have followed each others.

KRG has difficult work to rebuild Kurdistan from ruins caused by Saddam’s dictatorship, several wars, international embargo and increasing tension with the Baghdad government. Problems are not yet over, one of biggest problems is the situation in the disputed areas.

When searching for a solution the first thing is to understand the problem in details.

In other countries universities are centers for research and education. Teachers follow the latest development in their field and distribute the information to their students. When students graduate they bring fresh information to their working places.

During the Ba’athist times universities in Iraq were opposite to this model. They educated staff for the government’s needs and followed Saddam’s rules. The little research what existed here was strictly under Saddam’s control.

Despite almost twenty years of autonomy KRG has not been able to create new research policy to replace the old model. All agree about the problems of the universities. There are reasons for them. International embargo isolated Iraqi universities and prevented the staff from getting fresh ideas. Another problem is huge brain drain. Many intellectuals escaped from Iraq during three decades and now their skills benefit Europe instead of their own country.
It is difficult to establish research policy from point zero but it is the only way to find long term solutions to the present problems. I give two examples: the situation of the youth and disagreements about the disputed areas.

In other countries there is youth research. Politicians make their decisions about education based on information.
Kurdish teenagers grow up in difficult conditions: their parents had experienced destruction of the villages. Their childhood was unsecure because of the civil war between the Kurdish parties. Present problems and lack of motivation for studies are reflections of this history.

KRG demands implementation of Article 140. It claims the Kurdish history of Kirkuk and other disputed areas. Yet there is no research about it done according international academic standards.

There is need for research about these two subjects and many other things. It is not question of employing some skillful researchers or establishing some projects. There is need for Kurdish research policy with a wide political agreement about its long perspective goals and priorities. It must have enough of funding. The work should start by establishing a committee where participants are both politicians and researchers.

This text has been published in Aso newspaper in Sulaymania the 8th February 2011.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Newroz piroz be!