B u l l e t i n

c o m p l e t

Bulletin N° 456 | March 2023



After several weeks of hesitation and consultations, President Erdogan announced on 8 March that the presidential and parliamentary elections would be held on the scheduled date of 14 May. The announcement came amidst debate over the appropriateness of holding the elections so close to the date of the earthquake that has heavily affected the country.

The earthquake affected, to varying degrees, about 14 million people: 3.3 million people fled the affected areas to other provinces of the country. Almost 2 million survivors are living in tents or containers. The World Bank estimates that about 214,000 buildings, some as high as 12 stories, have been destroyed or condemned, representing more than 600,000 homes. It estimates the material damage at $34 billion, 4% of Turkey's GDP. The cost of reconstruction would, according to its first estimates, be over 70 billion dollars.

Citing this huge devastation and the population displacement it caused, circles close to the government, including former Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, pleaded for a one-year postponement of the elections. This proposal caused an outcry in the ranks of the opposition but also among lawyers. The latter have pointed out that the Turkish Constitution provides for the possible postponement of elections only in case of war. No provision is made for crises following earthquakes, although they are frequent in the country, regardless of their magnitude. In this context, the Turkish government has to organise the elections by 18 June 2023 at the latest. Criticised from all sides for the highly centralised and chaotic management of the disaster, the Turkish president has decided to take up the challenge and has announced that the planned date of 14 May will be maintained.

With this in mind, and to make people forget the negligence of the civil and military authorities during the first decisive days of the earthquake, President Erdogan decided to mobilise all the resources of the state to console and if possible seduce the millions of disaster victims. During his election campaign, he announced on 6 March that he would pay 100,000 LT (5,000 euros) to the relatives of the deceased. Nearly one million people affected by the earthquake received an initial relief of TL 10,000 (EUR 500), i.e. a total of half a billion euros in emergency aid. He promised the construction "within a year" of 450,000 homes to earthquake-proof standards to rehouse those who have lost their homes. A gigantic construction site which, if he is re-elected and keeps his promises, will be attributed to the small number of construction companies owned by oligarchs close to Erdogan.

Much of the reconstruction will be financed by donations and credits from the international community. On 20 March, a donor conference organised by the European Union raised €7 billion. The European Commission is contributing €1 billion "to restore schools, hospitals and infrastructure" destroyed by the earthquake. For its part, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has promised to invest up to €1.5 billion in the affected regions (Le Figaro, 9 March).

The government's partisan use of this money is causing great concern among independent NGOs and the Turkish opposition. The disaster aid provided by the international community to date has been centralised by the government agency AFAD, which is run by clerics close to the government. The latter has deliberately excluded independent NGOs, emanating from civil society and close to the population, from the distribution of aid in favour of the sprawling and very opaque AFAD and a host of pro-Erdogan religious brotherhoods that instrumentalise humanitarian aid and present it as a charitable work of "brother Erdogan". While Western countries are sending tens of thousands of tents and containers for the victims, the Turkish Red Crescent is selling tents to the highest bidders. Local NGOs speak of the diversion of international aid, as was already widely practised after the 1999 earthquake that killed 17,000 people in the Marmara region. They also deplore the "human waste" of preventing them from helping the most needy by a government obsessed with absolute control of civil society and guided by electoral calculations (Le Monde, 1er March, New York Times, 10 March), which conceals "the environmental and health catastrophe following the earthquake that threatens the region" (Libération, 11 March).

For its part, the National Alliance (Millet Ittifak), which gathers six opposition parties excluding the pro-Kurdish HDP, designated on March 8 its candidate for the presidential elections of May 14. It is the chairman of the Republican People's Party (CHP) Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, nominated by 5 parties despite the reservations of the alliance's partner, the Good Party (Iyi Party). The president of this far-right nationalist party, Mrs. Aksener, considering that Kiliçdaroglu, who lacks charisma, is not sufficiently unifying to beat the formidable Erdogan, threatened to leave the Alliance and proposed another CHP candidate, the popular Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu or that of Ankara. After a long weekend of conciliation discussions, a compromise was found. The mayors of Istanbul and Ankara will accompany Kiliçdaroglu in the electoral campaign and will be "when the time comes" appointed Vice-presidents of the Republic, as well as the leaders of the other 5 parties of the Alliance. If he is elected, Kiliçdaroglu will then be surrounded by 7 vice-presidents who will have their say on the important decisions and strategic orientations of the coalition which will thus substitute "collective intelligence for absolute autocratic power". The candidate Kiliçdaroglu, 74 years old, whose integrity and attachment to secular and republican values are well known, has in the eyes of Turkish nationalists and conservatives the "disadvantage" of being of Alevi faith in a society with a large Sunni majority. Moreover, even if he does not publicly display it, he is of Kurdish origin. This plural and minority identity makes him compatible with the progressive Kurdish electorate of the People's Democratic Party (HDP) which announced on the 22nd that it would not present a candidate for the presidential election and that it would therefore support Kiliçdaroglu's candidacy. A decisive support because with its 6 million voters representing 11% to 13% of the electorate, the HDP is the second force of the opposition. The CHP mayor of Ankara, coming from the extreme nationalist right and proposed as an alternative candidate by Mrs. Aksener, president of the Good Party, had little chance to be, even tacitly, supported by the HDP. The HDP would probably have measured its support to the mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, a practising Muslim likely to attract a part of the Sunni electorate. By not presenting a candidate against him in the municipal elections to defeat the AKP candidate, the HDP allowed the election of Imamoglu but the latter hardly showed his gratitude towards his Kurdish electorate and the Istanbul City Hall did practically nothing for the expression of the Kurdish culture and identity of the three million Kurds in its metropolis.

The National Alliance includes in its ranks two former ministers of Erdogan, Ahmet Davudoglu, former Prime Minister and former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Ali Babacan, former Minister of Finance considered as "the architect of the Turkish economic miracle" of 2005-2015. Between them, they should attract 5% to 6% of Erdogan's Muslim electorate in a presidential election whose outcome is announced as "tight" by polling institutes of uncertain reliability.

The HDP, threatened with banning by a procedure before the Constitutional Court, will present its own candidates for the legislative elections. In a context where its former president, dozens of its elected representatives and about 26,000 of its members and supporters are behind bars for opinion crimes (France 24, 25 March), it should form its electoral list with candidates of the new generation. More than 400 of its current cadres risk being convicted and declared ineligible by the Constitutional Court even if, feeling that the Erdogan era is coming to an end, the latter may also create a surprise by rejecting the request for the banning of the HDP demanded by the government and its public prosecutor. It also decided on 26 March to restore the public funding of the HDP "temporarily suspended" last January at the request of the government.

Very cautious and, to avoid any bad judicial surprise during the election campaign, the HDP will probably present its candidates under a new acronym: the Green Left Party. The Kurdish electorate is used to these changes of names qualified as "political guerrilla" because since 1994 seven legal political parties have been banned by Turkey. And each time the Kurdish electorate has shown resilience and political agility to regroup within the new formation.

In foreign policy, the most notable event of the month was the ratification by the Turkish Parliament of Finland's NATO accession treaty on 31 March. This decision, which came after months of threats and blackmail, was welcomed by NATO's Secretary General who called on Budapest and Ankara to ratify Sweden's application as well. Washington was content with an ad minima reaction while keeping its distance from the Turkish president who, once again this year, was not invited to the "Democracy Summit" organised by US President Joe Biden to bring together democratic countries allied with the United States to debate the future of democracy in the world.



The Iraqi Oil Minister announced on 25 March that Turkey had stopped importing oil from the autonomous Kurdistan Region today. This decision came "after the Arbitration Tribunal of the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris ruled in favour of Baghdad in a dispute with Turkey over Iraqi oil exports" reported AFP in a dispatch dated 26 March (see also Le Figaro of 26 March).

In 2014, when the Iraqi government of Maliki had decided to deprive Kurdistan of its constitutionally mandated budgetary allocation, the Kurdistan government had reached an agreement with Ankara to export its oil via the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan to finance its administration. Kurdish oil, transported via a pipeline built by Kurdistan, was sold on the international markets at a price lower than the market price in order to obtain resources essential to the survival of the Kurdistan economy, which was confronted, from the summer of 2014, with the offensive of ISIS and the exodus of hundreds of thousands of displaced Arabs, Christians and Yezidis to the Autonomous Region, which was safer. The Iraqi government then threatened the foreign companies exploiting and exporting oil from Kurdistan as well as those buying this oil with the worst sanctions, includeing banning their access to the Iraqi market. In this stormy context, it filed a complaint against Ankara before the International Chamber of Commerce based in Paris, claiming that it was "the exclusive manager of this oil and of the income derived from it". After nine years of complicated proceedings (the Iraqi Constitution provides for the exploitation by the autonomous regions of the resources of their subsoil but the transport of oil from Iraq to the port of Ceyhan is already governed by a Turkish-Iraqi agreement of 1963) the Paris Arbitration Tribunal ruled in favour of Baghdad and Turkey complied with this decision by ceasing to pump oil from Kurdistan as from Saturday 25 March at 9.35 am.

The Kurdistan Government reacted to this decision with serenity. It announced that it was sending a delegation to Baghdad to find a rapid solution because the cessation of exports is neither in the interest of Kurdistan nor of Iraq. For its part, Baghdad said that it was a "temporary halt" and that exports would resume "in a few days" as soon as a compromise had been found. With a volume of 24 million dollars of exports to Iraq, Turkey is an essential trading partner that Baghdad cannot defy, especially since Iraq also depends on its Turkish neighbour for the sharing of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Reassuringly, the Prime Minister of Kurdistan said on 26 March that "our recent agreements with Baghdad have laid the foundations for us to overcome today's arbitration decision". One of the main provisions of the recent agreement between Erbil and Baghdad guarantees that the Iraqi government will pay the salaries of Kurdistan's employees and civil servants to the tune of 307 million dollars in exchange for the export of 400,000 barrels per day of Kurdistan's oil to the federal government.

A few days before the decision of the Paris Arbitral Tribunal, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shi'a al Sudani had visited Erbil and Suleimanieh where he met with the main Kurdish leaders to discuss the ongoing disputes between Baghdad and Erbil. According to well-informed sources, the two parties found a compromise on Kurdistan's share of the federal budget and agreed to work together on the elaboration and adoption of a new draft law on oil and gas that had been awaited since 2005! On this occasion it was announced that the martyred city of Halabja will now be recognised as a province in its own right.

The Iraqi government has finally submitted a draft three-year budget law to the Iraqi Parliament. The budget for the year 2023 is $152 billion. The votes of the Kurdish deputies are essential for the adoption of this budget, as without them the federal government does not have a majority in Parliament.

In addition, the federal Parliament voted on 20 March to hold provincial elections on 6 November 2023. These elections will be the first in over a decade. In the Kurdish-majority province of Kirkuk, which is under the control of the Iraqi government, there have been no elections since 2005. Its last elected governor, Dr. Najmaldin Karim, was removed by Baghdad and replaced by his Arab deputy in October 2017 following a self-determination referendum in which an overwhelming majority of the province's voters had voted in favour of its attachment to Kurdistan and for the independence of Kurdistan. The results of the referendum were not recognised by Baghdad, which chose repression by sending its army and pro-Iranian Shiite militias who committed numerous murders and exactions, causing the exodus of part of the local Kurdish population. The November 6 elections will give a picture of the demographic power balance between the various communities in the province.



The capital of the Federal Region of Kurdistan has become an essential stop for Western leaders on official visits to Iraq. In March, it experienced intense diplomatic traffic.

It was the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guteres, who opened this sequence at the beginning of March by visiting Erbil where he met at length with the President of Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani, the Prime Minister and several other senior Kurdish officials. According to the statement from his press office, during these talks "the latest political developments in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, relations between Erbil and Baghdad and ongoing efforts to resolve their existing differences, the agenda of the Iraqi federal government and the status of the Sinjar district were discussed". Mr Guteres described his talks with Iraqi and Kurdish officials as "fruitful" and added: "In my discussions here (Erbil) and in Baghdad, I felt a real commitment to move forward and I urge all to translate this commitment into reality". A good connoisseur of Kurdistan, that he had visited several times in his capacity as UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Secretary General praised the role of the Kurdish Peshmerga in the war against ISIS, the generous welcome given by Kurdistan to those displaced by the war and to Syrian refugees, and expressed his admiration for the courage and resilience of the Kurdish people. For his part, the President of Kurdistan paid tribute to the fundamental work of the UN agencies in favour of displaced persons and refugees and the UN's mediation role in the resolution of the conflicts in Iraq and Kurdistan.

A few days later, Erbil received a visit from US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin. During his talks with the President of Kurdistan, Secretary Austin reaffirmed the commitment of the United States to provide security assistance to the Peshmerga and to work with the KRG on institutional reforms. He also denounced Iran's repeated attacks on Iraqi Kurdistan without mentioning Turkey's more recurrent and deadly attacks. He also called on the Kurdish leaders to overcome their divisions.

On 15 March, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, sent a letter to the President of Kurdistan in which he stressed "the need to fully resolve contentious issues between Erbil and Baghdad through dialogue and mutual understanding" and reiterated the US commitment to "strong cooperation and partnership with the Federal Republic of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. Cultivating a cooperative relationship between the Federal Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is a key issue for Washington.

At a time when the war against ISIS remains topical and the Iranian crisis unpredictable, Washington is redoubling its assurances to its Kurdish allies and encouraging the rapid settlement of disputes that have poisoned relations between Erbil and Baghdad for years in order to stabilise Iraq and reduce Iranian influence there.

In preparation for Lloyd Austin's visit to Erbil, the US Army Chief of Staff, General Mark A. Milley, travelled first to Erbil and then from there to Rojava on 4 March, where he met with Kurdish General Mazloum Kobani and his staff, as well as with US military officials. This visit of the highest American officer "to the YPG terrorists" raised the ire of the Turkish President and his government. The Turkish Foreign Minister summoned the US Ambassador to Ankara, Jeff Flake, on 8 March to deliver "necessary warnings and messages". General Milley, in a briefing at the Pentagon on 15 March, merely stated that it was a "routine visit" (Rudaw 16 March).

On 10 March the Director-General of UNESCO, Mrs Audrey Azoulay, went to Erbil where she was received by President Barzani with whom she spoke about UNESCO's ongoing projects in Mosul and in the citadel of Erbil. The Kurdish President spoke to her about other historical sites in Kurdistan that need UNESCO's support for their restoration and preservation.

On the same day, a delegation from the European Parliament led by Ms Sara Skyttedal arrived in Kurdistan where it held talks in the Kurdistan Parliament before being received by the Prime Minister and then by the President of Kurdistan. Referring to the decisive role of the Kurdish Peshmerga in the war against ISIS, the head of the European delegation stressed that "the security of the European Union depends on the security and stability of Kurdistan" and that "the European Parliament will continue to work for the strengthening of links between the European Union and Kurdistan". President Barzani expressed the thanks and gratitude of the Kurdish people for the support and assistance that the European Union has been giving for years in all areas to Kurdistan and the whole of Iraq. "We still need the political support and technical expertise of the European Union for our development and we wish to develop our exchanges and cooperation with the EU and its Member States", added Nechirvan Barzani.

In another important development this month, after long and difficult negotiations, the Kurdish parties agreed on the date of the next parliamentary elections: they will be held on 16 November 2023.



For the first time the UN Human Rights Council denounces the Commission of Crimes against Humanity in Iran. "The scope and gravity of the violations committed by the Iranian authorities, in particular since the death of Mahsa Amini, point to the commission of international crimes, including the crimes against humanity of murder, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, rape and sexual violence, as well as persecution", said the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Mr. Javaid Rahman, during the presentation of his report to the Human Rights Council, on 7 February

The UN independent expert regretted in particular the lack of prosecution of serious human rights violations and crimes under international law.

"In the absence of domestic accountability, I have strongly advocated for an independent international fact-finding mission and look forward to cooperating fully with it to ensure that victims of human rights violations receive justice," he insisted.

During the demonstrations following Ms Amini's death, security forces fired live ammunition directly at unarmed, peaceful demonstrators, including many children and young people who posed no threat, as well as at passers-by and people fleeing the scene. Demonstrators, including children, were beaten to death. 527 people, including 71 children, were killed and hundreds of demonstrators seriously injured. "Dozens of people have lost their eyes as a result of direct fire aimed at the head," said Rahman, noting that Iranian doctors have also reported that women and girls participating in the protests have been shot in the face, breasts and genitals with shotguns.

According to Javid Rahman, released children described being sexually abused, threatened with rape, flogged, given electric shocks, had their heads held under water, hung by their arms or with nooses around their necks.

Tehran has also carried out mass arbitrary arrests and detentions. Dozens of human rights defenders, at least 600 students, 45 lawyers, 576 civil society activists, 170 women human rights defenders, at least 62 journalists, artists and academics have been arbitrarily arrested and detained.

"Recently, the authorities acknowledged that more than 22,000 people had been arrested", said the UN independent expert.

In addition, this repression has resulted in the execution of at least four people associated with demonstrations after "arbitrary, summary and sham trials, with allegations of torture".

At least 17 protesters have already been sentenced to death and over 100 are currently facing death penalty charges. "These summary executions are symbolic of a state willing to use any means to instil fear and stifle protest", the expert said, noting his concern about "the continuing violence against women and girls, including coordinated chemical attacks across the country on schoolgirls, which have been repeatedly denied until recently by the government".

According to the expert, at least 500 people, including two juvenile convicts and 13 women, were executed in 2022, the highest number of executions in the last five years. Since January 2023, 143 people have already been executed after "grossly unfair trials".

On the other hand, Amnesty International states in its annual report: "The Iranian authorities have been sexually abusing children to break the morale and spirit of the protesters, and Baluch and Kurds from the provinces of Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan have been the main targets of this abuse. In its annual report published on 8 and 28 March, Amnesty International documented widespread cases of human rights violations by the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran against demonstrators and revealed that Iranian security forces, in addition to using torture against demonstrators to suppress protests, are attempting to crush the spirit of protest among young people, and have also used rape and sexual violence against children as young as 12. Underage protesters "sometimes as young as 12" have reportedly been subjected to "whipping, electric shocks and sexual violence" at the hands of Iranian law enforcement officials, Amnesty International said on Thursday 16 march 2023. "Iranian state agents are taking children away from their families and subjecting them to unspeakable cruelty", indicated Diana Eltahawy, deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, as quoted in the NGO's report.

According to a 21 February 2023 Amnesty International statement: "Iranian intelligence and security agents committed brutal torture, including beatings, whippings, electric shocks, rape and other sexual violence against 12-year-old children who were demonstrating, in an attempt to destroy their nationwide movement. And it was also done to crush the spirit of resistance of the youth".

 On 15 March, Shilan Kurdestani, one of the women's rights activists from Sanandaj who had been arrested during the protests following the death of Jîna Mahsa Amini, was sentenced to 40 months in prison by the Sanandaj Revolutionary Court. According to the report received by the human rights organisation Hengaw, towards the end of the Kurdish year, the First Chamber of the Sanandaj Revolutionary Court, headed by Judge Saeedi, tried the alleged offences committed by Shilan Kurdestani, a well-known translator and women's rights activist. She is accused of "belonging to the illegal group Jivano and propaganda against the regime". The women's rights activist was abducted by the Iranian Intelligence Ministry on Sunday 23 October 2022, after her grandmother's funeral in a street in the city of Sanandaj. Shilan Kurdestani was provisionally released on bail after two weeks in the Sanandaj Intelligence Department until the end of the proceedings.

On 16 March, anti-government demonstrations took place in Bokan after the murder of Shirzad Ahmadinejad in the Revolutionary Guards detention centre. Shirzad Ahmadinejad, one of the town's residents, had been arrested by the security forces during the protests of recent months. The demonstrators had chanted "Death to the dictator, Death to Khamenei" during these rallies.

On 17 March, the Iranian Human Rights Organisation reported the execution of Mohyeddin Ebrahimi, a Kurdish political prisoner, who was hanged on this day in Ourmia prison. Mahmoud Amiri-Moghadam, the director of the organisation, said: "Mohyeddin Ebrahimi was sentenced to death without a fair trial before the Revolutionary Court, and his execution is a violation of national and international laws. Mohyeddin, like more than 140 people who have been executed so far in 2023, was a victim of the government's opponent elimination machine whose aim is to intimidate people and prevent protests. Ali Khamenei and the judiciary under his command must be held accountable for these crimes. He added: "The international community must respond to the government's arbitrary executions. Silence is interpreted as approval of these waves of executions. Mohyeddin Ebrahimi, the Kurdish political prisoner, had been arrested by the Revolutionary Guards Corps on 12 November 2016. The Second Chamber of the Ummia Revolutionary Court had issued a death sentence for the first time against the political prisoner, which was overturned by the 16th Branch of the Supreme Court. However, the Second Chamber of the Revolutionary Court once again pronounced the death sentence for this prisoner. His lawyers, Mr Mozzin, Mr Alizadeh and Mr Tatai, stressed that Mohyeddin Ebrahimi was a simple Kolbar (porter) due to poverty and unemployment, and that he should not be charged with carrying weapons and armed struggle against the government. However, government authorities transferred him from the political wing of Ourmia Central Prison to the prison's isolation cells on Tuesday 16 March and summoned his family for a final meeting. The Iranian Human Rights Organisation had previously published details of his case and his letter to the organisation, calling on the international community to pressure the Islamic Republic to overturn his death sentence.

On 27 March, Hengaw reported the death of an IRGC member named Anwar Azizi in Mahabad and said that he had played a prominent role in the crackdown on protests in Mahabad in recent months. According to the Hengaw report, Anwar Azizi Gorub was shot dead by unknown gunmen at his home on Friday 26 March. The report said that Anwar Azizi was a "senior member of the Revolutionary Guard Corps in the region and was the commander of the Basij base in Gog Tepe of Mahabad". No political group has claimed responsibility for the killing, nor has the Islamic Republic's media reacted to it. According to Hengaw, Anwar Azizi was presented by eyewitnesses as one of the commanders on the ground during the crackdown on Mahabad residents. In the past six months, during nationwide protests in Mahabad city, at least 13 citizens have been killed by direct fire from the Islamic Republic's armed forces.

18 March: Suleiman Abdi, a member of the Kurdistan Teachers' Union, was arrested by security forces. According to the report received by the human rights organisation Hengaw, he was arrested at his workplace and taken to an unknown location. According to informed sources, after arresting the teacher, the Ministry of Intelligence agents searched the shop where he worked and the garden belonging to his brother. After arresting S. Abdi, they raided his home and confiscated his telephone and laptop devices as well as the mobile phones of his wife and son. A week after his abduction there is no information about his fate or whereabouts.

 22 March: Behzad Azizi, 19 years old from the town of Baneh, was shot dead in cold blood by Revolutionary Guards who deliberately targeted him in the head. The murder occurred as the young man was peacefully returning home to his native village in the Sheikhan Valley. He was shot and killed at the Karimabad checkpoint (3 km from Baneh) by the Pasdaran.

The Revolutionary Court of Ummia sentenced to death five Kurdish prisoners from this city: Wafa Henare, Aram Omari Bardiani, Rahman Parhazo, Mansour Rasouli and Nasim Namazi. Five other citizens: Kamran Henare, Fakhruddin Dudkanloi Milan, Ashkan Osmannejad Ganduk, Hassan Omarpour and Amir Mushtaq Gangchin were sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

Iran is also continuing its arm wrestling with Western countries. On 1st of March, it expelled two German diplomats in retaliation for the dismissal of two Iranian diplomats by Berlin on 22 February after the death sentence of a German-Iranian (Le Figaro). At least 16 Westerners, including 6 French citizens, are detained in Iran. Most of them are dual nationals but Iran does not recognise the status of dual nationality for its citizens.

Germany has appealed to the UN to clarify the poisoning of thousands of schoolgirls (Le Monde, 3 March).

According to numerous testimonies, quoted in Le Monde on 6 March, these poisonings, which are suspect to say the least, are accelerating and spreading. More than 5,000 students have been affected since November 2022 in 230 schools in 25 of the country's 31 provinces. The gas attacks are seen as revenge for the role played by schoolgirls in the "Women, Life and Liberty" movement. The perpetrators, radical Islamists, are said to be seeking to challenge the schooling of girls over the age of 10, even though education for all, although single-sex, remains compulsory in Iran. Reacting to the anger of the families of the victims, Ayatollah Khamenei called for "severe penalties" against the perpetrators of these crimes (Euronews, 6 March). According to an AFP report of 12 March, the Iranian authorities have announced a hundred arrests. We also learn that out of solidarity and to support women fighting for their freedom, many men have started wearing the Islamic veil in public (Le Figaro, 14 March).

On the economic front, the situation is getting worse. According to the New York Times of 6 March, the Iranian rial has lost 30% of its value against the US dollar since the beginning of the year. Inflation is running at 50% a year. In March, one US dollar was worth 500,000 rials, while in 2015 it was worth 32,000 rials.

In addition, the International Court of Justice, ruling on the case of the freezing of Iranian funds by the United States, dismissed Iran's case on 30 March.

Iran's nuclear negotiations remain at a standstill, but Iran continues to test the West's "red line" by pursuing uranium enrichment for military purposes. Thus, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency discovered particles of uranium enriched to 83.7% at an Iranian site, just below the 90% needed to make an atomic bomb (Le Parisien, 2 March).



As part of the international coalition in the war against ISIS, the United States maintains a military contingent in Rojava whose main mission is to train the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and to provide them with air protection. The size of this contingent has varied over the years and according to military-diplomatic visions. Thus, during the Turkish invasion of the Syrian Kurdish districts of Girê Spî (Tell Abyad) and Serê Kaniyê (Ras al-Ain) in October 2019, Donald Trump's administration decided to withdraw its bases located near these territories and to reduce its numbers in Syria in order to avoid a military confrontation with Turkey, its NATO ally. The maintenance or not of this force, residual but essential for the security of the SDF, has since been regularly the subject of debate and controversy in the US Congress.

On 8 March the US House of Representatives rejected a new resolution calling for the withdrawal of all US forces from Syria within six months by a vote of 321 to 103. The resolution sponsored by Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and his supporters argued, among other things, that such a small force had limited capacity to counter ISIS in the Middle East. That said, various military experts and officers joined most members of the House of Representatives in opposing the resolution. The US commander of CENTCOM, General Michael Kurilla, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, who recently returned from visits to Rojava, stressed that continued support for the SDF and ongoing US operations were essential to prevent the resurgence of ISIS.

A few days later, on 23 March, an Iranian bomb hit a US base near Hasakah, killing a US military contractor and injuring another contractor and five US servicemen. Hours earlier, Iranian-backed militias launched several rockets that hit the Conoco gas field in Deir ez Zor and residential areas near the al Omar oil field. Liwa al-Ghaliboun, backed by Iran, claimed responsibility for the attack three days later.

On 24 March, US airstrikes hit several Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) sites and reportedly killed or injured 13 IRGC members. Pro-Iranian militiamen responded by firing rockets at three US facilities, but none of these attacks resulted in US casualties. US President Joe Biden announced that the US would "act forcefully" to protect Americans in the region. In a separate statement, the National Security Council's coordinator for strategic communications, John Kirby, confirmed that the US had no intention of withdrawing from Syria and would continue its mission against ISIS.

While the attacks by pro-Iranian militias are aimed at US forces to harass them and force them to leave Syria, Turkey is methodically pursuing its war of attrition against the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). In early March, the SDF released a report summarising Turkish attacks on northern Syria in February, which included two drone strikes and 24 attacks with heavy weapons and tanks. The SDF claimed that the attacks killed four civilians and injured many others. The SDF also refuted Turkey's claim that it was the planner of the November 2022 Istanbul attack. "We affirm that the above-mentioned person has no connection with our forces, and that she is a civilian far from military and political activities, and the murder that affected her adds to the record of crimes committed by the occupation and still against our people," the SDF said.

In turn, the regional Kurdish administration, AANES, was attacked at least six times during the week of 14-20 March by various armed groups, including Hay'at Tahrir al Sham (HTS), the Syrian branch of al-Qa'ida, the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) and ISIS. The attacks killed several members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and destroyed a number of buildings. In addition, ISIS cells in Deir ez Zor threatened to kill local residents for cooperating with the Kurdish Internal Security Forces (Asayish) or for failing to pay extortion money. Finally, the SDF honoured 9 members of the Anti-Terrorist Units (YAT) who were killed in a helicopter crash on 15 March in Iraqi Kurdistan (Rudaw of 16 March). Thousands of SDF supporters travelled to Hasakah to attend this tribute ceremony.

In addition, the French Senate received on 24 March a delegation from the Autonomous Administration of Northern and Eastern Syria (AANES) and honoured the sacrifices of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and Women's Protection Units (YPJ) in the fight against ISIS. YPG and YPJ spokespersons Nuri Mahmud and Roxsana Muhammad were awarded a "Medal of Honour" on this occasion. The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the action and called on the French Ambassador to "firmly denounce the French Senate" for its recognition of the YPG/YPJ.

On 22 March, the UN International Independent Investigation Commission on Syria issued a report stating that Turkey and its Syrian proxy forces were responsible for numerous "arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, rapes, abductions and looting". On 23 March, 32 political parties and organisations from northeastern Syria held a press conference in Qamishli to denounce the Jinderes massacre, in which Turkish mercenaries killed four Kurds for celebrating Newroz on 20 March, and to demand that the ANS be declared a terrorist organisation.

On 27 March, the Syrian Democratic Council's representative in the United States, Sinam Muhammad, called for a commission of enquiry to be sent to Afrin to further investigate the crimes against humanity committed by Turkey and its mercenaries. Also on 27 March, the Syrian Women's Council issued a statement condemning the Jindires massacre and declaring that the incident was part of an organised genocide against the Kurds in Afrin.

Russia repatriated 49 children held by AANES on 11 March. A Sudanese delegation also agreed to repatriate ISIS women and young relatives from al Hol camp. AANES and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are still holding more than 10,000 relatives of ISIS members in al Hol and Roj camps.

On the occasion of Newroz, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) released 19 prisoners accused of working with the Islamic State (ISIS) after evidence of their involvement in massacres proved inconclusive. The prisoners were handed over to local leaders on tribal bail.

On the diplomatic front, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 16 March. Assad expressed his support for Russian plans to establish new military bases and deploy additional troops in Syrian government-controlled territories. He still refuses to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Turkish officials and claims that all of Syria's security problems are caused or exacerbated by Erdogan's policies in Syria. He also continued his efforts to normalise relations with his Arab counterparts by meeting the President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and, to a lesser extent, the UAE supported anti-Assad rebels during the Syrian uprising. The UAE has reversed course and rebuilt ties with Damascus in recent years, despite US objections.

On the humanitarian front, the survivors of the 6 February earthquakes are in total destitution. International aid is being used and diverted by the Syrian regime and by the various Islamist militias operating in the province of Idlib and in the Kurdish territories under Turkish occupation. In spite of this deleterious situation, more than 40,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey, who lost everything in the earthquake, have returned to Syria to be reunited with their loved ones and their homes.



The Kurdish-Iranian New Year, Newroz, was celebrated everywhere in Kurdistan, in the Kurdish diaspora and even at the White House where the American President organised a reception "in honour of the courageous Iranian women who, through their struggle, have become a source of inspiration for the world".

In Iranian Kurdistan too, this year's celebrations were dedicated to the icon of women's struggle Jina Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody at the age of 22 for "inappropriate" wearing of her Islamic veil. Anti-government demonstrations broke out in most Kurdish cities including Mahabad, Bokan, Saqqez, Sinneh (Sanandadj), Urmia, Kermanshah, Piranchahr, Shino, Marivan, Baneh and Jiwanro on "Red Wednesday" (Çarsema Sor) which begins on the evening of the last Tuesday of the Iranian calendar year. Tens of thousands of Kurds defied the threat of repression by waving the Kurdistan flag and singing Kurdish patriotic songs. Forces opened fire on the demonstrators in several localities, including Saqqez, Mahabad and Dewalan. About forty Kurds were injured and three others were arrested. Unlike the Persians who celebrate their "Nuruz" on 21 March as a spring and New Year's festival with picnics and family meals, among the Kurds the Newroz has a political content of resistance against tyranny and injustice.

In Turkey, where any celebration of Newroz was forbidden until 1992, this year, despite the mourning of hundreds of thousands of families affected by the devastating earthquake of 6 February and despite capricious weather, massive celebrations were organised in all Kurdish cities as well as in the major Turkish metropolises such as Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Adana, which have large Kurdish communities. Here and there, especially in Istanbul, they were marred by clashes with the police. The most important celebration was held, as every year, in Diyarbakir, the political and cultural capital of Kurdistan in Turkey, with the participation of several hundred thousand inhabitants of all ages and social conditions.

In autonomous Kurdistan, the celebrations were peaceful and quiet. The most spectacular event was the torchlight march of several thousand people at dusk through the historic and mountainous site of Akreh, a town located between Erbil and Duhok.

In Syrian Kurdistan, in the regions under Kurdish control, the Newroz was celebrated everywhere with joy. In the territories under Turkish occupation, where Islamist militias are supplementary to the Turkish army, any celebration was forbidden. A Kurdish family of 4, who had lit some candles in their garden, was massacred on 20 March by Islamic militiamen, provoking the indignation and anger of the local population. The Kurdistan Government condemned the quadruple murder and called for the perpetrators to be arrested and brought to justice. Ankara has promised an investigation but no one is under any illusion that this will happen. The many crimes and abuses perpetrated by pro-Turkish militias have so far gone unpunished.

The Kurdish New Year was also celebrated in the Kurdish diaspora in Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. In Paris, the Kurdish Institute organised a popular party on 20 March at the Town Hall of the 10th arrondissement of Paris, where several hundred families came with their children, often dressed in Kurdish costumes, to dance to the rhythms of Kurdish music in the company of their many French and other friends. The mayor of the 10th arrondissement, Mrs Alexandra Cordobard, her municipal councillors as well as the former mayor Rémi Féraud, who is now a senator for Paris, took part in the celebration and shared this moment of joy and friendship with the Kurdish community.



Thirty-five years ago about 5,000 Kurdish civilians were killed and more than 10,000 injured by chemical gas dropped by 8 MiG-23 bombers of the Iraqi Air Force in the Kurdish town of Halabja.

The images of this chemical massacre shocked international public opinion, but neither the Western countries, nor the USSR and its communist allies, nor the member states of the Arab League condemned this barbarity perpetrated by the genocidal regime of Saddam Hussein, who was their ally and a major client of their arms industries. The international fact-finding mission dispatched by the UN, while noting the scale of the massacre, refrained, at the request of Washington in particular, from naming the culprits so as not to serve "Iranian propaganda" (see the book of investigation by Joost R. HILTERMANN, A Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq, and the Gassing of Halabja published by Cambridge University Press in 2007).

The gassing of Halabja was part of the vast genocidal Anfal campaign carried out in 1987-1988 by Baghdad to "settle the Kurdish question definitively", razing 4,500 of the 5,000 Kurdish villages and some thirty towns and destroying the agro-pastoral economy of Kurdistan. It left 182,000 people dead, most of them buried in mass graves in the deserts of southern Iraq after their summary execution.

The perpetrators of this genocidal campaign have also been identified, as well as their chain of command, thanks to Iraqi archives captured by the Kurdish resistance and by the Americans after the fall of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship in April 2003.

The architect of this campaign, a cousin of the dictator, Ali Hassan Majid, known as Ali the Chemical, was tried and executed. But the botched trial of Saddam Hussein in 2006 and his hasty execution decided by the Shiite leaders in Baghdad did not allow for a real trial on Anfal and Halabja. This is a denial of justice for the victims, who are still waiting for justice to be done, for all the guilty parties to be tried and punished. This includes the Western and Russian companies that provided the regime with the means to manufacture and release these weapons on the civilian population (see Amnesty's dossier).

A class action against these companies is underway but has not yet been successful; the Kurds are also demanding that this mass crime be internationally recognised as genocide.

The Iraqi Parliament has recognised this genocide but, as the President of Kurdistan, Nechirvan BARZANÎ, has just reminded us on this anniversary, the Iraqi government has not yet provided any reparation or paid any compensation to the survivors.

In the meantime, the survivors of the genocide are rebuilding their city and their lives. Halabja is now run by a young female mayor, a symbol of democratic renewal and hope.

For an account of the gassing of Halabja and the international reactions at the time see the special issue of the Institute's Bulletin (Halabja, March 1988).