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Assyrians and the Turkey-PKK Conflict in Iraq

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For decades, Assyrians in Iraq have been caught in the crossfire of the ongoing conflict between Turkey and the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) along the Iraqi-Turkish border. The operations in northern Iraq increased in June 2020, when Turkey launched Operations Claw-Eagle and Claw-Tiger—its most aggressive offensive targeting PKK strongholds in the country since 2015.


Turkey has consistently pursued the PKK in northern Iraq with little regard for the negative consequences for civilian populations who inhabit the same areas occupied by the militant group. The airborne attacks often occur in close proximity to areas mainly inhabited by Assyrian, Yazidi, and/or Kurdish civilians, posing significant risks including: endangerment of civilian life, displacement, traumatization, destruction of property, and agricultural lands, and threats to livelihoods. The PKK continues to endanger civilian populations by operating from or near civilian areas, carrying out attacks on Turkey and Turkish military bases in the KRI.


This first-of-its-kind report documents the dates and locations of Turkish airstrikes across 2020 which occurred in close proximity to villages inhabited by Assyrians in Duhok Governorate. It also examines the consistent challenges to the security and livelihoods of Assyrians as a result of the hostilities. The API has obtained information in regard to 52 incidents in 2020 in which Turkish strikes targeted areas inhabited by Assyrians.

The ongoing Turkey-PKK conflict must be seen both within the microcosm of regional geopolitics and within the context of heightening risks for threatened groups like Assyrians. While the Turkey-PKK negatively affects various communities in the region, it is important to recognize the unique threats posed to vulnerable peoples such as Assyrians who presently face an existential crisis. Thus, the report focuses almost exclusively on the situation for the Assyrian people in the context of the Turkey-PKK conflict in northern Iraq, and conveys recommendations drafted out of concern for their existential security. Published January 11, 2021.

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This publication was made possible through the generous support of the Assyrian National Council of Illinois, Dr. John Michael, Tony S. Kalogerakos, Atorina Zomaya, Matt Fakhoury, Aladin Khamis, Abe Yousif, Robert and Victoria Kaprelian, Manny Goriel, Dr. Edison Ishaya, and Dr. Dennis Gelyana. The contents of this report are the responsibility of the Assyrian Policy Institute and do not necessarily reflect the position of the above-named organizations and individuals.

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