The past week has seen multiple Turkish airstrikes targeting militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in parts of northern Iraq inhabited by Assyrians. On September 1, 2018, the Assyrian village of Dooreh in Barwar (Dohuk Province) was attacked. Three days later on September 4, 2018, the village of Rabatkeh in Nahla was attacked. Locals in the village of Annoneh in Barwar reported additional airstrikes on September 5, 2018.
There were no casualties in any of the bombings, but extensive damage was done to farmlands and homes were damaged. Local residents extinguished the fires themselves because “the KRG does not come here [to areas with a PKK presence].”
The PKK is a Kurdish militant and political organization founded in Turkey with operations throughout the region. Since 1984, the PKK has been involved in an armed conflict with the Turkish state. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by several states, including the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as international bodies such as the European Union and NATO.
According to the New York Times, “The P.K.K. has found refuge in Iraq’s remote mountains, and in recent years, Turkey has been fighting the group outside its borders, including carrying out airstrikes on Iraqi soil.”
Dozens of Assyrian villages in northern Iraq have been attacked by Turkish forces over the years. Local Assyrians told the Assyrian Policy Institute that the PKK presence in their villages dates back more than a decade and has steadily grown. PKK militants are gradually moving into homes in Assyrian villages, making locals feel uncomfortable and unsafe.
The KRG is aware of the PKK’s presence in areas under its jurisdiction, but has done nothing in response. Residents have long feared that an attack on PKK in Nahla by Turkish forces was possible, as reported by the Assyrian Confederation of Europe in September 2017, and worried they would be caught in the crossfire.
The PKK presence in these areas poses many risks and hinders day-to-day activities. For example, many men in Nahla hunt in the surrounding mountains to provide for their families. They explained hunting is a serious risk, as Turkish forces might mistake them for PKK militants and target them, especially if armed.
The ongoing conflict in these areas between Turkey and the PKK has driven some locals to leave their towns out of fear for their safety. Residents have lost confidence in Iraqi and Kurdish authorities. One man from Nahla said, “Neither Iraq nor the KRG are in a position to get them out of our villages. So again, we are left with two options—either we live with this risk or we leave. Our people have had enough.”
Assyrian MP Yacoob Yaco (Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament) has called on Turkish officials, urging them to refrain from attacking areas with civilian populations. “Our people always end up paying the price for conflicts they want no part in,” he told the API.
Yaco went on to say, “The Iraqi Government is incapable of curbing Turkish aggression on Iraqi soil. The issue of encroachment on Iraqi soil and its territory has become routine for Turkey and Iran. At the same time, the Kurdistan Regional Government is not interested in the matter due to its inability to impose law and order in these areas, and claims that they are unable to expel elements of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in our villages.”
In August 2018, Turkish airstrikes also targeted the Sinjar region of Iraq, the ancestral homeland of the Yazidi people. Yazidi activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Nadia Murad told the New York Times, “Sinjar cannot be a place for people to fight their wars.”