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Ongoing Hostilities Threaten Barwar and other Assyrian Areas in Northern Iraq

Updated: Jan 24, 2019

Clashes between Turkish forces and the PKK outside Mar Sawa Church on December 13, 2018. (Barzan Sadiq)

Ongoing hostilities between Turkish forces and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) continue to threaten Assyrian areas administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq. The violence has significantly increased over the course of the past year and is a source of instability that threatens the safety and affects the livelihood of local populations.

On the evening of December 13, 2018, clashes ensued between Turkish forces and the PKK near the Assyrian village of Annoneh (Kanimase), Barwar in the province of Dohuk, Iraq. Speaking to the Assyrian Policy Institute by phone, witnesses and local residents stated that the violence lasted for approximately five hours, beginning around 6:00pm and continuing until about 11:00pm.

Video footage shows clashes between Turkish forces and the PKK near Mar Sawa Assyrian Church of the East, which was destroyed by the Ba'athist regime in 1986 and reopened decades later in 2011. "This has been happening since the 1990s. It happens all the time, even though we have no part in this conflict," an Assyrian resident of Annoneh told the API this morning. "But in the last year, [Turkish Forces] have increased the attacks on our lands. And there is nobody to stop them."

The Assyrian Policy Institute was presented with video evidence which suggests civilians have also been targeted with violence. Locals also reported that they now have restricted access to their lands as a result of the ongoing hostilities. For example, Assyrians say they can no longer visit the historic Mar Qayoma Monastery situated in the mountains on the outskirts of Barwar due to the PKK presence in the area. Dozens of attacks by Turkey against presumed PKK members each month throughout 2018 have threatened Assyrian areas in Dohuk Governorate, including Barwar and Nahla Valley. Earlier this year, the API reported on Turkish airstrikes in both regions. Some of the airstrikes and clashes have caused significant destruction of civilian property, infrastructure, and agricultural lands. Residents say that the ongoing violence has pushed many to flee, contributing to the migration of Assyrians from northern Iraq.  The Turkish government attempts to justify attacks on Assyrian villages by claiming that these villages support or have a PKK presence. The PKK is a Turkish opposition group that has long maintained a presence in northern Iraq, operating near the Turkish, Iranian, and Syrian borders. Turkish authorities have actively launched operations against the PKK for more than a decade. In September, Human Rights Watch reported that "Turkish forces appear to have extended their presence into northern Iraq" since March 2018.

Earlier on the same day, Turkish airstrikes targeted multiple areas in the Yazidi-majority territory in Sinjar. Read Yazda's condemnation of the December 13, 2018 airstrikes in Sinjar here.


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