B u l l e t i n

c o m p l e t

Bulletin N° 454 | January 2023



The repression is intensifying against the popular demonstrations that continue to take place in Iranian Kurdistan and in a large number of Iranian cities since the death in police custody on 16 September of the young Kurdish woman Jîna Mahsa AMINI.

On the orders of Ayatollah Khamenei, the repressive forces acted with extreme brutality against peaceful demonstrators whom the authorities described as rioters manipulated by foreign powers. President Raissi said: "We will show no mercy to hostile elements". By the end of January, more than 488 people had been killed, 18,000 injured and nearly 14,000 arrested, according to human rights NGOs.

The fate of prisoners is particularly worrying. Torture is systematic and rape and sexual abuse are frequent, as testified by human rights activist Narges Mohammadi in a damning testimony published by the daily Le Monde in its 2 January edition and on the BBC-Persian website. According to the French academic Yan Richard, a specialist in Iran, "the regime can still toughen the repression" (Le Monde 02/01).

To date, 4 protesters have been executed after summary trials. For the UN, these executions are "arbitrary deprivations of life" and "border on state murder". At a press briefing in Geneva on 10 January, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Ravina Shamdasani, denounced the trials of Iranians sentenced to death as "a lack of respect for procedures, accusations that are completely spurious and make no sense". These are charges of corruption on earth and war against God that are formulated in a very vague way", she stressed. She also referred to "serious allegations of torture and ill-treatment, humiliating treatment before their executions" (AFP 10/01).

In its 12 January edition, the American daily New York Times publishes portraits of the executed and those on death row, while Le Parisien of 16 January paints a portrait of the "death judge", Abdol Qasem Salavati, "a key element of repression in Iran".

On 14 January, an Iranian-British man, Alireza Akbari, a former senior Iranian defence ministry official, exiled in London and now a British citizen, was executed in Tehran. He had been arrested in 2019 during a trip to Iran and severely tortured to make him "confess". His execution angered the British government, which promised sanctions.

Sanctions that did not impress the leaders of the Islamic Republic. In response to the wave of repression that has hit the popular protest movement, the European Union has also adopted a series of new sanctions against certain Iranian officials involved, banning them from visas or confiscating any property they may have on European territory. But these sanctions remain symbolic and without real impact. European leaders have not been able to agree on putting the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the list of terrorist organisations. For fear of Iranian reprisals, the matter was postponed to a later date (Le Figaro 23/01). Tehran was also quick to announce new sanctions against the European Union and the United Kingdom (Le Figaro 25/01).

Iran practices unabashedly a diplomacy of hostage-taking in order to exert maximum pressure on the West. 7 Frenchmen are currently languishing in Iranian jails, including a Franco-Irishman, Bernard Phelan, who according to his relatives quoted by AFP (18/01) is "in a critical state of health". The French Minister of Foreign Affairs called on Tehran on 26 January (AFP) to free the French hostages. An appeal that risks remaining without effect in the current climate of high tension in Franco-Iranian relations.

The publication of cartoons of Khamenei in a special "7 January" issue, the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attack, has further aggravated these relations. After protests against these "insulting" cartoons for the "Supreme Guide" that the satirical weekly presents as "a slap in the face to the mullahs", Iran decided to close the French Institute for Research in Iran (IFRI) (Le Monde 05/01).

Throughout Europe and the United States, demonstrations in support of Kurdish and Iranian women have multiplied. On 16 January, after a rally in the Trocadero gardens, Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, surrounded by her municipal councillors from all political sides, projected the slogan of this struggle "Woman, Life, Freedom" on the Eiffel Tower, which she recited in her speech in Kurdish "Jin, Jiyan, Azadî". On the same day, thousands of Iranians from several European countries demonstrated in Strasbourg in front of the European Parliament.

Also in January, Iran adopted a new budget with the lion's share going to the armed forces and security spending. There is no economic improvement in sight for the civilian population. The regime seems to think that the precariousness would encourage people to focus on their daily survival and to give up any political activity that might have consequences. However, the year 2023 could be even more turbulent both domestically and in foreign policy. Thus, upon his return to power, Benyamin Netanyahu ordered a targeted strike against a major Iranian nuclear site in Isfahan, and a strike against a convoy of Iranian weapons in Syria (Le Monde 29/01). Negotiations on the Iranian nuclear file are at a standstill.



Turkish political news in January focused on the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. The Turkish President, in a meeting with the youth in Bursa, declared on 22 January "I will use my authority to bring forward the election to 14 May" (AFP). A symbolic date which will mark the 73rd anniversary of the victory of the Democratic Party of Adnan Menderes which ended the long reign of the Republican People's Party (CHP) founded by Ataturk. Ten years after this victory, Menderes, a pro-Western conservative who had brought Turkey into NATO, was overthrown in a coup on 27 May 1960 and was sentenced to death and hanged with two of his ministers a year later after a summary trial by the military junta.

The Turkish president claims this legacy and predicts an equally resounding victory against the coalition of six opposition parties led by the same CHP, a secular ex-party and the bête noire of the conservative Muslim electorate.

Despite the deterioration of the economic situation, which is reflected in high inflation (officially 85%, but in fact more than 140% according to independent economists), an incessant depreciation of the Turkish lira (30% in one year) and a record balance of payments deficit ($40 billion in 202, i.e. 5% of GDP), Mr. Erdogan, who in the last 20 years has won 10 parliamentary or local elections, 2 presidential elections and 3 referendums, believes that he has the chance of a new victory. Under his leadership, his party, which has taken over all the machinery of the state, has become a state party. It has the resources of the treasury and the central bank at its disposal to spend lavishly in order to seduce the undecided electorate and the precarious middle class. It promises to build 500,000 new social housing units in five years in a country which, due to a galloping population and rural exodus, is experiencing a housing crisis. A law passed in January allows for early retirement for 2.3 million workers, who should be grateful to vote for him. The minimum wage has been increased by 55% and civil servants' salaries by 30%. A £600 billion (about €30 billion) subsidy is promised to deal with the huge increase in energy bills.

With what money?

The opposition claims that the state coffers are empty. In order to maintain the value of the lira until the elections, the central bank spent more than $100 billion in 2022. The influx of capital from Russian oligarchs and refugees brought in $28 billion, but neither this unexpected windfall nor the currency swap agreements signed with China, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates have bailed out the coffers. Russia, which is currently intervening for Erdogan's re-election, has opportunely suspended Turkey's huge debt to Gazprom. The Turkish economy, which is on life support, could therefore maintain itself until the elections. If Erdogan is re-elected, he could, with his usual aplomb, blame external enemies, especially the West, for the economic crash that is looming on the horizon.

The other part of the Turkish president's electoral arsenal is to silence opponents by using the courts as he pleases. To date, more than 200,000 Turkish citizens are being prosecuted for "insulting the president", mostly on social networks. A recent law criminalising the dissemination of "fake news" will further censor these last spaces of expression that are these networks in a country where more than 90% of the media have, according to The Economist of 21 January (see press review), "become government propaganda agencies". In its 2022 annual report on press freedom in the world, the NGO Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey 149th between Sri Lanka and Belarus. Deprived of publicity and fearing prosecution, the few opposition media such as the CHP's Halk TV do not dare to criticise the government, in particular its foreign policy presented as "national security policy", the slightest criticism of which is qualified as "treason" in unison by the government and its media. The Turkish opposition parties do not oppose the Turkish military operations against the Kurds in Syria and Iraq or the recurrent threats against Greece and Cyprus.

The only party that breaks this consensus and openly criticises Erdogan's power is the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which is paying a high price as a result. Criminalised and presented as the "political wing of the PKK", it has been banned from the media since 2017 (The Economist). Thousands of its activists, including elected MPs and mayors, are in prison. On Erdogan's orders, it is being prosecuted by the Turkish Constitutional Court, which could ban it at any time depending on the Turkish president's electoral agenda. In the meantime, this Constitutional Court decided on 5 January by 8 votes to 7 to "suspend as a precaution" the public funding due to this party which, with six million voters, is the third political force of the country. Like all parties represented in parliament, it is entitled to public funding in proportion to the number of its members. In this election year, it was to benefit from a public subsidy of 539 million Turkish pounds (about 27 million euros), the first payment of which was to be made on 10 January (Libération, 6 January). Deprived of media and funding, the HDP has promised that it will continue to fight peacefully for these elections which will be neither fair nor free.

The Turkish president continues to use foreign policy as a tool to portray himself as a statesman respected by Putin, a peacemaker, a defender of the rights of Turks and Muslims around the world and a fighter against the "imperialists" (Americans and Europeans) who hatch dark plots to weaken Turkey and support terrorists. This rhetoric repeated every day on the country's TV screens finally convinces many Turks whose nationalist feelings he flatters. Turkish parliamentarians and some of their Pakistani and Indonesian colleagues have even gone so far as to nominate Erdogan for the Nobel Peace Prize. They pretend not to know that the Turkish president, who is blocking NATO membership for Sweden and Finland, is not exactly in good standing in the Scandinavian countries. A group of Swedish supporters of the Kurdish fighters of Rojava displayed a puppet of Erdogan hanging by his foot like Mussolini in front of Stockholm's city hall with the caption "Thus end the dictators". Ankara was furious and summoned the Swedish ambassador to Turkey. Impotence and exasperation of the Swedish government which declares "not being able to respond to Turkish demands" (Le Monde 24/01) that are incompatible with the rule of law and freedom of expression. Many Swedish intellectuals, artists and politicians criticise the cowardice and amateurism of their government. A radical Swedish activist went so far as to burn a Koran in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm. The Swedish government condemned this "irresponsible" and "disrespectful to believers" act without prosecuting because desecration is not a crime under Swedish law. This gesture allowed the Turkish president to pose as a defender of Islam and its values and to declare that he was closing the door on Sweden's membership of NATO while being ready to consider favourably that of Finland, which has, for its part, authorised the first military exports to Turkey since the embargo decided in 2019 after the Turkish invasion of the Syrian Kurdish canton of Afrin. Turkey decided to cancel the visit of a Swedish minister to Ankara. This diplomatic crisis and Turkey's obstinacy in blocking the entry of Sweden and Finland into NATO will most likely have a negative impact on the ongoing negotiations on the sale of US F-16 bombers to Turkey. Many senators and congressmen have already declared that they will oppose the sale.



On 25 January, the Supreme Federal Court of Iraq handed down a surprising ruling that the financial transfers made by the Iraqi Government led by Mustafa al-Khademi to the Kurdistan Regional Government were "unconstitutional". These transfers represent a small part of the financial endowment that Baghdad is obliged to allocate to the Kurdistan Region to pay the salaries of civil servants, police and Peshmergas.

Since 2014, under various pretexts, the successive Iraqi governments have been reluctant to pay Erbil this allocation calculated in proportion to the population of Kurdistan compared to that of Iraq, which in 2015, when the Constitution was adopted, was estimated at 17% of the Iraqi budget once the regalian expenses (army, foreign affairs, central bank) were deducted. The non-payment of this allocation by the pro-Iranian Shiite-dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki from 2014 onwards was one of the main reasons why the Kurdistan government decided to use its right to self-determination by organising a referendum on Kurdistan's independence in October 2017, in which nearly 93% of voters voted in favour of independence.

Why stay in a state that continues to pay salaries to Arab officials in the vast areas then under Daech control and deprives Kurdistan, which is fighting Daech and is home to nearly 1.5 million displaced people, of a budget?

After this quasi-divorce, thanks to the mediation of several States, including France, the Iraqi government promised to resume payment of its share of the budget to the Kurdistan Region. This promise has been kept partially and intermittently depending on the political situation. The government of Mustafa al-Kadhimi had accepted, within the framework of a normalisation process, to pay each month about a third of the monthly allocation due, i.e. $400 million to pay the salaries of civil servants in part, with the Kurdistan Regional Government being responsible for supplementing this financing with the sales of its oil while awaiting the settlement of the various disputes between Baghdad and Erbil.

It is these transfers that the Federal Supreme Court considers unconstitutional. This ad hoc court, set up even before the adoption of a law defining its competences and functioning, was quickly taken over by pro-Iranian Shiites who transformed it into a political instrument of Iranian influence. In a few months, the Court thus "disqualified" the favourite Kurdish candidate for the presidential election, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs and then of Finance, Hoshyar Zebari, who enjoyed great notoriety in the Arab world and was appreciated by the Western chancelleries but unacceptable for Iran because he was "pro-Western", the law on hydrocarbons adopted sovereignly by the Kurdistan Parliament in 2007, which considerably favoured foreign investments in the energy sector, whereas twenty years after the fall of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, Iraq has not yet been able to legislate in this area.

In this context, the 25 January ruling of this court judging "unconstitutional" the transfers of funding to the Kurdistan government provoked strong reactions from the Kurdish authorities. Former President Massoud Barzani compared this court to "a Baathist court" flouting the law. The Prime Minister of Kurdistan expressed his shock and called on the new Iraqi government of Mohammed Shia al-Sudani to finally prepare a law on the role, functioning, mode of appointment and precise competences of a higher court, provided for by the Constitution to rule on disputes relating to its interpretation. The adoption of a federal law on hydrocarbons is also becoming urgent. In an international context where, because of the war in Ukraine, the supply of gas and oil is becoming a strategic issue, Western countries, led by the United States and France, are strongly encouraging Baghdad to quickly adopt such a law to enable international oil and gas companies to operate within a clear and stable legal framework. Washington has sent its Special Coordinator for Global Infrastructure and Energy Security, Amos Hochtein, to Baghdad and Erbil to encourage them to reach agreement and settle their disputes through negotiation. The UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Rosemary A. Di Carlo, visited Baghdad and Erbil from 22 to 24 January to make the same plea and encourage the necessary Kurdish-Iraqi dialogue.

Finally, the new Iraqi Prime Minister, al-Sudani, paid a visit to Paris on 26 January where he was received for dinner at the Elysée by President Macron. He was accompanied by his Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Fuad Hussein. The issues of energy, stabilisation of Iraq and economic and security relations were at the centre of this short visit which took place in the midst of the crisis caused by the Federal Court ruling.

The new Iraqi government needs the votes of the Kurdish deputies to finally pass its budget. It has promised that it will continue to send its share of the budget to Kurdistan which, if its promises are kept, should amount to 14% of the federal budget. Negotiations on these issues are expected to resume in early February.



The fate of some 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey is one of the major issues at stake in the upcoming Turkish elections. The economic crisis has exacerbated Turkish nationalist sentiments against foreigners, especially Westerners, who, according to the government's favourite conspiracy theory, are the cause of all Turkey's problems and the misfortunes of its population. Disarmed in the face of these powerful and out-of-reach "enemies", Turkish nationalist passions are channelled towards nearby enemies such as the Kurds, whether from Turkey, Iraq or Syria, who do not pledge allegiance to Erdogan, and the Greeks, described as "spoiled children of the West" threatened with a "good lesson". In addition to these "long-standing enemies" of the nationalists, there are new scapegoats: Syrian refugees who, due to their large numbers, would exert strong pressure on the labour market and on the already very tight housing stock.

With the exception of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), all the other opposition parties promise to send all these Syrian refugees home within a year by normalising relations with Damascus if they win. They blame Erdogan and his adventurous Syrian policy for the influx of these refugees. This discourse finds a fairly large echo among the Turkish electorate.

It is to counter its impact that the Turkish president has been seeking dialogue with the Syrian regime for several months. Russian President V. Putin, who is working for the re-election of his friend Erdogan, is actively trying to do him a favour by using his influence with Damascus. The Syrian president, who cannot say no to his benefactor Putin but who does not want to make any electoral gift to Erdogan, is holding back. He poses preconditions such as the withdrawal of Turkish troops from the Syrian territories they occupy, which Ankara considers unrealistic and even unacceptable. The meeting of Syrian and Turkish foreign ministers announced for mid-January has been postponed for a month, said on 17 January the diplomatic adviser of the Turkish president Ibrahim Kalin (Le Monde 18/01). Vladimir Putin being very busy with the war in Ukraine, Ankara seems to have called on Iran, the other sponsor of Damascus, to mediate. On 17 January, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian went to Ankara where he was received at length by President Erdogan and his colleague Mevlut Çavusoglu. On the agenda were the situation in Syria and the Turkish-Syrian dialogue process as well as Turkish-Iranian cooperation against their common enemy "the terrorism of the PKK and the PYD which threatens the territorial integrity of the countries in the region".

The Iranian minister then went to Damascus where the Turkish request for an Assad-Erdogan summit was coldly received because "the conditions are not met". Ankara is also asking Moscow to organise a summit between Presidents Erdogan, Putin, Raissi and Assad in Tehran or in the Russian capital, which, a few months before the elections, would reinforce Erdogan's statesmanlike stature in the eyes of Turkish voters and would give them a signal that the Turkish president is the best placed to resolve the thorny issue of Syrian refugees through dialogue with Assad.

The rapprochement between Ankara and Baghdad raises many concerns in the ranks of the Syrian opposition based in Turkey and among the many Syrian militias armed and financed by Turkey as auxiliaries or as executors of the Turkish army's dirty work in the occupied Syrian Kurdish territories, in Libya or in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Meanwhile, faced with the refusal of Moscow and Tehran and the firm American opposition to any new Turkish military operation against the Syrian territories under Kurdish control, Turkey is still hesitating to launch its announced military intervention against the Syrian Kurds.



On 19 January the German Parliament unanimously adopted a resolution describing the massacres perpetrated by Daech in the summer of 2014 against the Yezidis of Iraq and Syria as genocide.

"The Islamic State had the objective of the total elimination of the Yezidi community. More than 5,000 Yezidis were tortured and brutally murdered by the Islamic State mainly during 2014," the symbolically important seven-page resolution stresses. It recalls that "men were forced to convert and if they refused were immediately executed or deported as forced labourers (...), young boys were sent to Koranic schools and enlisted as child soldiers or used as suicide bombers. And women enslaved, raped or sold".

In addition to this recognition of the past, the resolution adds a list of specific demands to the German government to prosecute the perpetrators of these mass crimes and to provide financial assistance for the reconstruction of the destroyed Yezidi towns and villages in Sinjar to enable the return of some 300,000 Yezidis driven from their homes.

During the debate, the German Foreign Minister criticised the passivity of Angela Merkel's government with regard to the fate of the Yezidi women: "On a day when thousands of women were parked in a school, GPS data was sent. Yes, we knew where they were (...). Why didn't we act? (Le Monde 20 /01)

In an interview with the Kurdish TV station RUDAW, Ms Baerbock says that "Germany cannot undo the mass murder of the Yezidis but can bring justice" (RUDAW 19/01)

The genocide of the Yezidis has already been recognised by the Iraqi Parliament, by the Netherlands and Belgium in July 2021 and by Luxembourg in November 2022 as well as by Armenia, Australia and Canada. The United Nations and the European Parliament have also recognised the genocide. But to date, no international programme to help the Yezidi victims rebuild their lives and their destroyed towns and villages has been put in place. The Iraqi government, which is guilty in the first place of failing to protect its Yezidi citizens from the barbarity of Daech, has not yet adopted any measures of reparation and compensation.



The Kurdish Institute in Paris organised an exhibition of paintings and sculptures by some twenty Kurdish artists in exile in the vast reception hall of the Town Hall of the 10th arrondissement of Paris.

Intervening a few days after the triple assassination of Kurdish militants in Paris, this exhibition, planned for a long time, wanted to signify that, although mourning, the Kurdish community was resilient and upright. Several hundred people, Kurds, friends of the Kurds, and the artists attended the opening of this exhibition on 7 January 2023 in the presence of the Mayor of the 10th arrondissement, Alexandra Cordobard, elected municipal officials and journalists. The Kurdish flag was raised and the emblematic slogan Jin, Jiyan, Azadî (Woman, Life, Freedom) was displayed in large characters. Mrs Cordobard gave a welcome speech underlining the long-standing solidarity of her town hall with the Kurdish people, a town hall where the Kurdish community celebrates its bank holidays Newroz year after year. Then the President of the Kurdish Institute thanked the mayor and the councillors for their warm welcome and their solidarity. He also stressed that in the Kurdish tradition life always prevails over death, resistance over mourning and despondency. The artists present testify to the richness, creativity, vitality and diversity of Kurdish art and culture, he added.

The exhibition, which was open to the public from 7 January to 2 February, was a great success with the public. It found a large echo in Kurdistan thanks to the reports of Kurdish television channels. In France too, certain newspapers such as Le Parisien reported on it.

The exhibition catalogue is available on the Institute's website,  Arts kurdes en exil (Kurdish Art in Exile).




The famous British weekly The Economist devotes in its issue of 21 January 2023 a complete well-documented dossier on Turkey (the title on the cover: "Turkey on the brink of dictatorship" has provoked strong reactions from the Turkish presidency, which denounces a manipulation of Western business circles on the eve of the Turkish elections – see press review p 51-63).


Turkey ranks 149th out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom, between Sri Lanka and Belarus, according to Reporter sans Frontières' 2022 ranking. With 40 journalists in prison, it is also, according to RSF, the world's largest prison for journalists after China, Iran and Myanmar.

In the absence of a free and critical press, corruption also thrives as in all autocratic regimes.

Endemic and massive, it is reaching record levels in Turkey according to Transparency International. In 2022, it ranks 101st between Thailand and Bosnia in the ranking just published by this anti-corruption NGO.

Turkey's ambition to be among the world's top 10 economies by 2023, the centenary year of the founding of the Turkish Republic, remains a hollow dream. The world's 17th largest economy in 2019, Turkey has fallen to 19th place with a GDP per capita of just $9600. External debt now exceeds $186 billion.