The latest powerful example of why Kurdistan must be a sovereign nation — with membership in international bodies

Who are the Kurds?

The Kurds are an ethnic people with their own cultural and linguistic traditions, who live in the Kurdish regions of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Making up 15% to 20% of Turkey’s population, the Kurds have been marginalized and systematically oppressed in Turkey for generations. 

In the 1920s and 1930s, after the Treaty of Lausanne set the borders of present-day Turkey and made no provision for a Kurdish state, Kurdish uprisings began but were quickly crushed. Afterward, many Kurds were forcibly resettled in southeast Turkey, Kurdish names and costumes were forbidden, the use of the Kurdish language was restricted, and even the existence of Kurdish ethnic identity was denied. In 1978, Abdullah Ocalan established the PKK, which called for an independent state within Turkey. Founded in 1974, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is an armed group fighting for Kurdish political and cultural rights in Turkey. Its first operation was in 1984.

Turkey’s Operation Claw-Tiger: attacking border areas it shares with Iraq

Turkey recently launched joint operations with Iran known as Claw-Eagle and Claw-Tiger on June 15 against the PKK. Claw-Eagle, the air offensive, was launched on June 15, while the ground offensive Claw-Tiger was launched two days later. Turkey has re-adopted its unsuccessful tactics from the 1990s, which involves reducing the Kurdish question purely to a counter-terrorism matter, and disregarding the complex economic, social, and cultural dimensions.

The Iraqi government has reported that five civilians have died in the days since the start of this campaign. While Turkey claims that the PKK is a “terrorist group,” we can see that it is Turkey that is bombing densely populated civilian areas. What then does that make Turkey — NATO ally or terrorist? 

Former Pentagon official Michael Rubin, now a researcher with the American Enterprise Institute, thinks it’s the latter. He stated in an interview

“Turkey has provided a great deal of false information about the PKK to the US over the years, and almost any intelligence supplied by the Turks is hopelessly polluted. Frankly, the United States should also re-assess Turkey. NATO member or not, it increasingly seems Turkey fulfills any definition of terror sponsor more than the PKK does.”

Turkey uses PKK’s presence as an excuse to ethnically cleanse and expand Turkey’s borders. Turkey’s objective is to occupy strategic military areas that will allow them to gain more territory in Northern Syria. According to the PKK commander, Rizgar Ersi, Turkey’s objective is to gain a strip of land 30-40 km wide that would allow them a line of attack from Qandil to Shingal — the two places where PKK members are primarily based. 

However, Turkish airstrikes killed five Kurdish civilians in the Kuna Masi picnic resort, alleging that 2 PKK members were in that area. The important thing is that despite knowing that it is a densely populated area and that military actions would cause risk to civilians and their property, Turkey went ahead with it anyway. The attacks caused major fires in the mountainous terrain, widespread panic among the residents of some 20 villages, and damaged property as well as costing many civilian lives. 

This attack happened just 1 hour away from where I live, which is in the city of Sulaymaniyah. I remember when I saw the video of a bomb landing right next to a kid playing in the shallow water with his family in the picnic resort.

Zharo Baxtiar and his family were playing in the river in Kuna Masi
when a Turkish missile hit the water very nearby (photo from Zharo Baxtiar/Facebook)

I remember when I saw the video of a bomb landing right next to a kid playing in the shallow water with her father at the picnic resort. I just stared at my screen in disbelief. I have been to that place many times.

I was outside having a picnic with two of my friends in our garden at the time, and I immediately looked up at the sky and looked around for bombs. I knew it was unlikely, but I was still terrified. I was just thinking to myself we could be next.

I vividly remember my family’s faces when I ran inside to ask them if they had heard about what happened in Kuna Masi. My family was very upset at the injustices Turkey has perpetrated on Kurds over many generations, but they also felt alone by the lack of support from countries around the world.

Graphic: Maps4news, Sarkawt Mohammed / Rudaw

In a statement released last Sunday, the Turkish defense ministry denied that its military has ever harmed civilians, saying that it only targets “terrorists.” But while Turkish President Erdogan claims that Turkey only targets “terrorists,” their actions have proven otherwise. Turkey’s air force has hit scores of targets in the Kurdistan Region’s Haftanin, Zap, Gara, Avasin-Basyan, Qandil, and Khakurk areas, as well as the disputed towns of Shingal and Makhmour (both home to significant populations of refugees and internally displaced civilians). While the Iraqi spokesperson said that “We strongly reject and condemn these actions that harm the close, long-standing relations between the two friendly nations,”  and urged for an “immediate” halt to Ankara’s offensive, Turkey has not stopped its offenses. UN officials have already voiced concern that Iraq has not raised the issue of Turkish airstrikes with the UN Security Council. 

In fact, Iraq condemned Turkey’s actions only after Turkey attacked some villages in Nineveh (along with Zakho districts). Iraq was clearly worried about its own areas being attacked and not those governed by KRG. They likely haven’t raised the issue at the UN because there is no political gain for Iraq in doing so. Zerevan Musa, mayor of Zakho’s Darkar subdistrict, has stated that, according to data recorded by his office, Turkey hit Darkar and the nearby subdistrict of Batifa with nearly 700 bombs and 70 rockets between June 15 to July 4. 

I think Turkey’s objective is to occupy more land and increase its military presence near the Turkish-Kurdish border. This would give Turkey more power to eradicate PKK and prevent the cleared regions from being used by PKK again. There are already more than 10 temporary Turkish bases there. 

Turkey is invading the national sovereignty of Iraq and Kurdistan, as more and more people evacuate their villages in fear of Turkey’s military activity. 

This situation is an important indicator of what happens when the nation of a people such as the Kurds is not recognized. Erdogan brutalizes civilians and destroys their areas while using Turkey’s membership in international organizations in order to block any international restrictions on his military actions.

Photograph provided by the Turkish ministry of defense showing Turkish troops in action against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq. (Photograph: AP)

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