Dear Friends, Family and All Good People,
The bombing has continued two days this week and CPT is being expelled from the country on Sunday, three days from now, with little chance to intervene on behalf of the Kurdish villagers. This article by my teammate Anita David from Chicago is a helpful explanation of the complex affair. Read and respond.
Peace to this world!
“When there is a promise, there is a tragedy.”
The tilled fields are small and the stands of undersized trees infrequent. The compressed tonal range of the scene falls between straw and the gray green of lichen. In the distance, the snow-dusted Qandil Mountains are the rawest element in this land. They form the border between Iraq and Turkey and are rendered irrelevant by Turkish fighter planes flying over them to drop bombs on villages there. 235 kilometers separate 34 mountain villages bombed in the Suleimaniya Governorate of Kurdistan from Kirkuk, the disputed oil rich region, where a referendum was to have taken place by December 31, 2007. It has been put off for six months.
“If you want to know if there is a direct line to Article 140, yes. There is!” Sitting in his office, the mayor of Rania, a temporary home to families displaced by the bombing, was emphatic in his assessment. He did not raise the issue of Article 140. Asked about the distance between the two locations, that was his response. Almost anyone in Kurdistan will say the same.
A complexity of relationships, going back in time, result in death, displacement, loss and hardship for both sides.
The Turkish government insists its only intention is to rid the mountains of PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party). In 1984, PKK began its armed struggle to create an independent Kurdish state within Turkey. More than 37,000 people died, and thousands of Kurdish villages in Turkey were destroyed since that time. Recently, PKK attacked Turkish soldiers, killing 13 on October 7 and another 12 on October 21. In the October 21 attack, seven Turkish soldiers were captured and later released. The Turkish government accused PKK of responsibility in two October attacks on Turkish civilians. PKK has a standing request for dialogue with Turkey, first forwarded in 1994 and reiterated this November. If the Turkish government will agree to their six requirements, they will lay down their weapons. Thus far the Turkish government has refused to talk.
Even dead, Saddam Hussein continues to affect Kurdish lives. In the 1975 Algiers Accord, Saddam agreed to allow Iran to attack Iranian Kurdish fighters within Iraqi territory. In the Istanbul Agreement, he agreed to attacks by Turkey on PKK bases inside Iraq. Turkey’s recent attacks are over 40 kilometers within Iraq’s borders. There are five Turkish outposts in Iraq. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) is in contact with the outposts. Turkey notifies KRG Peshmirga when they might carry out an operation. The Peshmirga talk with police or local Peshmirga leaders who notify citizens there might be activity. These arrangements extend to Iran. Before the July 18, 2007 shelling, Iran dropped leaflets in areas where it pursued PJAK (sister organization to the PKK) along its border with Iraq. PKK notifies villagers when it learns of possible attacks in an area. People leave and then return to what remains of their homes and former lives. The attack becomes another mark in a history enveloped by memory.
In August 2007, the Iraqi central government made a security arrangement with Syria, Turkey and Iran. The central government indirectly asked for help in hunting down PKK and gave permission to attack PKK within Iraq’s borders. In September/October things heated up. On October 17 the Turkish Parliament voted to allow military operations in Iraq. The U.S provided intelligence information to Turkey of PKK movement. More significantly, it cleared the air space allowing attacks on its Kurdish ally in Iraq by Turkey.
In early September Turkey attacked in the northwest region of Dahok. Fifty to sixty families evacuated and have since returned. On December 16/17 Turkish aircraft hit 34 villages in the Suleimaniya Governorate, and in Erbil Governorate damaged or destroyed 21 villages causing over 700 families to evacuate.
On December 31, in Dahok Governorate, 13 villages received constant shelling and had to be evacuated. On January 15, air strikes and shelling occurred in both Erbil and Dahok Governorates. The shelling in these areas damaged farms and killed livestock but did not cause civilian casualties. Since October, Turkish attacks have been moving from Suleimaniya to Erbil to Dahok Governorates. Continued flyovers by Turkish reconnaissance planes cause villagers and farmers returning to their homes to fear for their lives. Bombardments continue on abandoned villages. Turkish military are present within Iraq’s borders.
As a result of the December 16/17 bombings, 370 families were displaced to towns in the Suleimaniya Governorate and 370 families were displaced in the Erbil Governorate. (Each family is counted as 6 individuals.) In Sulimaniya Governorate, one woman was killed and five villagers are injured. There is extensive loss of livestock (Picture), damaged or destroyed homes, a destroyed school (Picture) and two damaged mosques. Very few people remained in the villages. Some shepherds continued to graze their herds but found shelter overnight in caves. Villagers found shelter in rented houses or in relatives’ homes causing hardship on host communities.
The numbers don’t capture the realty of these interrupted and dismantled lives. Mr. Abdullah, Vice Mayor of Sangasar, who works directly with victims of the bombing in the Suleimaniya Governorate describes “…their life there is crippled. As a result [of the attacks] we have 30 to 40 schools closed in that region, also, some hospitals have been closed. People are worrying about their futures.” 190 of 370 displaced families in the Suleimania Governorate moved to Sangasar.
“This is about geography. For the Kurds, this is about land and the oil is in the land which we will give to the United States.” Ali Khalifa Aziz sums up the situation in these few words. Mr. Aziz survived Saddam’s death camp in the south of Iraq. He recently repossessed his home in Kirkuk. It is also about a long dirty history: the British, the monarchy, Saddam, the Anfal and Arabization of the Kurkuk region, and now the United States. Kurd’s have been yearning for their own state since before the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and were promised autonomy by both the British and the Baath Party. In Ali Aziz’s words, “When there is a promise, there is a tragedy.”
Article 140 of Iraq’s Constitution, calls for a referendum in Kirkuk and other disputed territories to determine whether these areas which underwent Arabization would revert to Kurdish authority. Arabization is the process by which Saddam Hussein replaced Kurkuk’s Kurdish population, whom he either killed or expelled, with nearly 90,000 Arabs. Kurds are returning to the city and reclaiming their homes. Turkey stated its unhappiness with Article 140 and what relates to Kirkuk. Iran, Iraq, and Syria each have Kurdish minority populations but Turkey’s thirty million Kurds is the largest group. Turkey views any authority or power in one part as a threat to them. Oil revenues coming to the KRG with the settlement of Article 140 could be used to supply and support Turkey’s Kurdish population. An autonomous Kurdish state becomes more real.
Mr. Hassan, Mayor of Qaladza, another town providing homes to displaced villagers, believes: “This is my personal opinion. There are so many issues. This part of Kurdistan has been liberated. Kurdistan has its own government so that is a threat to Turkey.”
There is a Kurdish problem inside Turkey related to the Kurdish minority there and the Turkish government’s humanitarian and diplomatic point of view. In the 1990s the PKK shifted their demand for independence to human and cultural rights for Turkey’s Kurds. The Turkish government granted some change. Kurds believe it is not enough. In October the Turkish parliament, with an overwhelming majority, gave the Turkish army one year to finish off the PKK. The current Prime Minister has challenged the military by giving it a blank check for one year. The military is nervous about the current civilian government and knows it has to prove itself for its pride and to the population. However, the Turkish army did not tell the parliament they already lost the war. 600,000 soldiers are needed to monitor, patrol and control this area. Turkish soldiers do not know this mountainous region, can’t bring large vehicles in because of the roads and winter conditions make movement very difficult.
The attacks have led to increasingly bitter feelings toward the United States. The U.S. administration seems oblivious to the negative political effects of the attacks. In the past, Kurds spoke of the United States and President Bush with great admiration. It took long conversation and building a relationship of trust before someone would express disappointment in the U.S’s lack of support during the 1991 uprising or its silence during the Anfal. Now, there is no hesitation in expressing anger with President Bush for his choice to support Turkey.
Kurds argue that Kurdish Peshmerga fought along side of U.S. soldiers in this war. They point out that Kurdistan is the only place in Iraq that is secure and peaceful and where the U.S.’s stated goal of a democracy is beginning to take hold. A program of human rights training for security police is underway. At the grass roots level, nongovernmental organizations and students pressure the regional government for change. A second issue is that as the occupier, it is the responsibility of the United States to protect the Kurds and to not make them target practice for Turkey. Finally, by supporting Turkey in its attacks, the United States breaks all international agreements including Geneva which forbid attacks on civilian populations.
From a security perspective, ridding the border areas of PKK and PJAK opens these areas to insurgents pushed out by the “surge”. There is infiltration along the eastern route between Iran and Iraq. Specifically, Ansar al Islam moved into villages in areas PJAK left.
90% of the families have returned to their villages. If their houses are still standing, villagers need to prevent snow and rain from destroying the mud bricks by covering them. If their livestock are alive, they need care and shelters should be rebuilt. Schools, damaged or destroyed must be rebuilt. People need to regain their source of livelihood. Turkey’s aim may be to subdue PKK or to forestall implementation of Article 140, but its targets are people.