Security checkpoints administered by Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities on key access roads leading to the Nahla Valley continue to affect the freedom of movement of Assyrians within the region. The checkpoints have negatively impacted the daily lives of local civilian populations by preventing Assyrians from entering and leaving the area after a designated curfew. The restrictions on movement contribute to the challenges faced by Assyrians in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and the uncertainty generated by the checkpoints also bear larger implications for them.
Locals note that the checkpoints have brought unnecessary harm to people's access to food, water, livelihoods, and other fundamental rights. In general, KRG authorities do not permit passage through these checkpoints at night which causes complications for the normal conduct of life and business and can be life threatening in the cases of medical emergency.
On July 17, 2023, an Assyrian family returning home from the nearest hospital in Akre was denied entry to the Nahla Valley and slept overnight on the roadside. The incident sparked a protest at the checkpoint at approximately 2:00am on July 17, during which local Assyrians gathered to protest restrictions on movement.
The KRG checkpoints were established following clashes between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which effectively rules the KRG, and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in November 2020. The checkpoints can be permanent or partial, but also temporary. They were reportedly set up to prevent food and supplies from being delivered by sympathizers to PKK guerrillas in the area in an attempt to force them to withdraw from the region.
The PKK is a Kurdish militant group founded in Turkey but operating throughout the region from its headquarters in the Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq. The PKK has been in an active armed conflict with Turkey since 1984. For more than two decades, they have been expanding their presence in the KRI, occupying entire towns and villages thus making them targets in the Turkey-PKK conflict.
PKK militants occupy various Assyrian villages in the Nahla Valley—including Rabatke, Upper Hezani, and Lower Hezani, as well as the surrounding mountains—squatting in empty homes and other properties owned by Assyrians. Due to the PKK presence, the area has been a consistent target in Turkey's decades-long campaign targeting PKK forces in the region. Turkey has consistently pursued the PKK in Nahla with little regard for the safety of civilian populations who inhabit the same areas. The PKK presence has other negative consequences for local Assyrians such as confiscation of Assyrian lands and properties, restrictions on movement, increased feelings of insecurity, and shortages of food and supplies.
Nahla Valley is a geographical region spread between Amediya District and the disputed Akre District of Dohuk Governorate, contained by mountain ranges. It is inhabited mainly by ethnic Assyrians. Whilst in the past there were 23 Assyrian villages in the Nahla Valley, only eight remain today, including Belmand, Chem Rabatke, Upper and Lower Hizany, Kashkawa, Khalilane, Meroke, and Zoly. The western villages of Nahla Valley are linked to Amediya District, while the eastern villages are considered part of Akre District.
The PKK presence in the Nahla Valley has grown significantly over the past decade due to inaction from governing authorities. Tensions between the KDP and PKK have risen in recent years over control of strategic territories, including the Nahla Valley. Some Assyrian villages in the KRI are fully under the de facto control of the PKK. The PKK maintains its own checkpoints in parts of Dohuk Governorate. The area dividing KRG-controlled territory and PKK-controlled territory often stretches miles in length and effectively serves as a buffer zone. The KRG has not had full control of the area for upwards of two decades. ◼
The KRG should lift restrictions on movement of people and goods to and from the Nahla Valley.
The KRG should relocate all checkpoints, such as those near Nahla Valley, which are causing unnecessary harm to Assyrians and other civilian populations.