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Kurdistan’s Weekly Brief, June 15, 2021

16.06.2021
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Iraq 

  • The President of Kurdistan Region Nichervan Barzani traveled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and met with Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the UAE, on June 12. The meeting addressed terrorism and Iraq’s political process, and both sides agreed on “cooperation and partnership among the regional countries, including Iraq, the Kurdistan Region and the UAE.” Likewise, Prime Minister of Kurdistan Region Masrour Barzani visited Belgium and Greece and met with officials from both nations. Greece, Belgium, and the UAE all have outstanding issues with Turkey.  
  • Turkish forces carried out additional airstrikes and clashed with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraqi Kurdistan. Additional fighting between Turkish forces and the PKK took place near Avashin amid Turkey’s increasing use of drone strikes throughout the region. Meanwhile, tensions between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and PKK decreased in response to calls from Peshmerga commanders, Kurdish politicians, and artists that rejected intra-Kurdish war and described such an outcome as bolstering Turkey’s plans to seize additional territory and expand military operations in the region. 
  • Despite the passing of Iraq’s 2021 budget law and several agreements between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Government of Iraq (GOI) regarding revenue sharing, the GOI has still not provided the KRG with funds for employee salaries or other government functions. Though two KRG representatives traveled to Baghdad to discuss the issue with the GOI last week, they failed to make any real progress, and the salaries of many public employees in Iraqi Kurdistan remain in arrears.

Syria 

  • An attack on the al Shafa hospital in Turkish-occupied Afrin killed 21 people last week. Turkey and its allies accused Kurdish forces of perpetrating the attack, but both the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the People’s Defense Units (YPG) denied involvement, denounced the attack, and accused Turkey and its Islamist proxies of carrying out the attack to smear the Kurds before the G7 meeting between the US and Turkish presidents. Granted, available evidence indicated pro-Assad forces were behind the attack, as the Assad regime and its backers have targeted hospitals with impunity throughout the Syrian Civil War.
  • The White House issued no statement following US President Joe Biden’s meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday. That said, Erdogan described the meeting as “fruitful and sincere,” and US support for Kurdish forces in Syria was among the topics discussed. 
  • The Rojava Center for Strategic Studies released a study showing that Turkey’s campaign of forced displacement in Afrin has reduced its native population by 75 percent since March 2018. Additionally, Turkish-backed fighters and their relatives now account for at least 65 percent of occupied-Afrin’s population, and at least 7500 Palestinians have been settled on seized Kurdish lands in northeastern Syria.  
  • The SDF continued raids targeting ISIS (Da’esh) terrorists and established several checkpoints near Deir Ez Zor Governorate’s Diban and Tayyana towns last week. At the same time, unidentified warplanes or drones struck an Iranian-backed militia armory south of Abu Kamal. Iran maintains a sizable presence in the governorate, mostly west of the Euphrates River, and has settled hundreds of Afghan and Iraqi fighters in the area. 
  • The Autonomous Administration of North and East of Syria (AANES) is preparing to hold elections throughout its controlled territories this year. The AANES previously announced plans in 2020 to hold elections for all local councils and executive positions within one year, and the upcoming election will be the second since the establishment of the Kurdish-led administration.

Turkey 

  • The Turkish government continued its campaign of political repression against the nation’s Kurds by arresting several more people and applying additional pressure to the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Likewise, a Turkish appeals court upheld Democratic Society Congress (DTK) Co-chair Leyla Guyven’s prison sentence of 22 years and three months. Guyven was previously charged with “membership of a terrorist organization” and “propaganda” in what has been described as political retaliation for her criticisms of President Erdogan and other Turkish officials. Meanwhile, a court in Urfa sentenced an attorney and former HDP leader named Sevda Çelik Özbingöl to 11 years in prison. Özbingöl previously represented the victims of the July 2015 Da’esh attack in Suruc. Moreover, Turkish authorities arrested 24 people, mostly HDP members, last week, including four in Cizre, five in Van, nine in Diyarbakir (Amed), four in Hakkari, and two in Istanbul. Finally, the third session of the “Kobani Trial” against 108 Kurdish and HDP lawmakers began on Monday. Though some of the accused were released with travel restrictions pending trial, dozens are facing the possibility of long prison sentences for anti-government speeches delivered in 2014. 

Iran

  • United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres submitted an annual report on human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran during the 47th session of the organization’s Human Rights Council, which stated, “Arbitrary deprivation of life remains a major concern, including through the imposition of the death penalty in ways that violate international human rights law, through lethal use of force by State agents, and as a result of the deprivation of medical care in detention.” The report also noted 60 Kurdish border porters (Kolbars) were killed in 2020 and criticized the Iranian regime for its ongoing persecution of minorities and execution of at least 69 Kurds. 
  • Iran’s Kurdish region heeded calls from Kurdish opposition parties and continued to prepare for a boycott of the nation’s presidential election in what is shaping up to be Iranian Kurds’ largest election boycott since the 1979 establishment of the Islamic Republic. Of course, voter lethargy in Iranian Kurdistan is also being driven by the region’s poor economic conditions and the Iranian regime’s ongoing repression of Kurdish political activity. 
  • Iranian intelligence officers (Ettela’at) arrested a Kurdish man named Hassan Faraji in Marivan. Concurrently, Iranian security forces arrested a Kurdish activist and former political prisoner named Barzan Mohammadi in Sarvabad (Saulawa). The Kurdish Association for Human Rights (KMMK) claimed Mohammadi was targeted for launching a social media campaign named “No for the Islamic Republic.” Meanwhile, the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights reported Ettela’at officers were impersonating detained activists via communication apps to entrap other activists and get them to reveal their identities and activities. Ettela’at officers were documented as having used the identities of four activists who were arrested in Sanandaj several months ago and have no access to phones or computers.  
  • Iranian border guards ambushed and injured two Kolbars, Masoud Khezrzadeh and Rahman Karimpour, near Baneh on Sunday and Tuesday. At the same time, a Kolbar named Hamid Wassie fell off a cliff and died near Nowsud. The Iranian regime, Turkish border guards, and the rugged conditions of the Iranian-Iraqi Kurdistan border region have now claimed the lives of at least 35 Kolbars in 2021.
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