Turkish Jets Bombed These Villages
The residents told us to blame the PKK
Iraqi-Kurdistan’s mountainous border with Turkey is littered with abandoned villages, under-populated towns and bases for the guerrilla Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
On July 25, Turkish jets bombed villages and PKK positions after years of relative calm. But during a recent trip by War Is Boring to several villages targeted by Turkish warplanes, residents blamed the PKK for provoking the strikes and disrupting their livelihoods.
In the tiny, scenic mountain village of Sergele, Turkish air strikes had set farms and fields ablaze. Bombs destroyed pipelines carrying water to the village, which sparked panic among the villagers.
“We asked PKK many times not to locate their positions in or near the village,” Husni, the village leader, told us in an interview. “But they never listened to us and came closer.”
Sergele was the scene of heavy fighting between the PKK — which the United States and Turkey consider a terrorist organization — and the Turkish military in the 1990s. Before that war, the village contained about 160 houses and almost all of them were destroyed or abandoned.
The village never fully recovered. Today, Sergele contains about 70 houses and a small guerrilla presence. Several residents asked the Kurdistan Regional Government — Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region in the north — to intervene.
“We would like the KRG to ask the PKK to go far from our village, because we asked the PKK many times but there was no response,” Husni said. “The government can do that. We do not want PKK guerrillas to be killed — they are Kurds as well — but we want to avoid harm because of them. It is important that they stay away from us.”
In the village of Mje, Turkish warplanes carried out strikes during the nights of July 28 and 29. About 10 families fled for their lives. There are PKK positions about 100 meters away from the village.
Mje villager Hiro Ahmad Mji said the guerrillas should leave. “We ask the KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] to move those PKK positions far from us, because it is the agricultural working period,” Hiro said. “We had been working on it since the spring and will harvest this month.”
During the Turkish aerial bombing, PKK fighters moved from their positions into the village, according to witnesses. Effectively, the villagers became human shields. Another villager, who refused to give him name, was upset. “The KRG, political parties and media are not taking responsibility for us,” he said. “Every few years they set fire on us and everyone is silent.”
“A journalist came and was talking to the villagers,” he added. “After a few minutes, the PKK came and captured him. Since that time no one dares to come and ask us what is happening. We want the government to find a solution for us.”
We wanted to know what the guerrillas had to say. Zagros Hiwa, a PKK spokesperson, denied that the group’s presence harms civilians. He also criticized the KRG for not taking a harder line against Turkey.
“If the KRG has its sovereignty and wants to protect its people, then it has to have an attitude against Turkey’s attacks,” Zagros told War Is Boring. “The KRG has to solve that problem, because this attack is against the KRG and Iraq’s sovereignty. But we had not seen any attitudes from the KRG.”
“Turkey’s main objective is the Kurdish people in general, and the KRG should have a Kurdish attitude.”
Zagros denied that villagers were upset about the PKK’s presence. “There is no truth in this,” he said. “Sometimes spy and intelligence media agencies show people from the villages and make them give such speeches. But people in our protection areas are grateful to the PKK, and their security is protected in the PKK guerrillas’ hands.”
The Kurdistan Regional Government disagreed.
“The PKK’s existence in the border areas has a negative impact on people’s lives,” KRG spokesperson Safin Dzay said. “In the 1990s, there was an armed conflict between the PKK and the Peshmerga in those areas, but we never supported a war, and we asked the PKK to have a responsible attitude so the people from those areas would not be harmed.”
“It is true that there are people affected by Turkey’s attacks on the PKK, and we urge that no one approaches the violence — and we support the continuity of peace process.”
But people from the villages argue that the KRG has not gone far enough, and that it should order the rebels to leave. But the Kurdish government has ruled out expelling the guerrillas by force.
“We had told the PKK already and we tell them again now — they shouldn’t put their positions on peoples’ properties and near houses and villages,” Safin said.
“But if PKK does not listen, what can we do for the villages and their people? Fight the PKK?”
The answer to that question … is no. Iraqi-Kurdish president Masoud Barzani has ruled out such a move. The Kurdish Peshmerga are also fighting a brutal war with Islamic State along a 1,000-kilometer front line. “People are waiting for the KRG to step forward for them, and our only step is political pressure on the PKK,” the spokesperson said.
More than 300 deserted villages litter the northern regions of Iraqi-Kurdistan. Many others never fully recovered from the last war between Turkey and the PKK. Several empty villages are more than 60 kilometers from the Turkish border.
But the PKK denies that its presence scares people away. “There is nothing like that,” Zagros Hiwa, the PKK spokesperson, said. “People from any village can go to his or her village, and guerrillas are staying far from them and do not come close to their places. In this situation, it is the KRG’s responsibility to ask Turkey not to fight the PKK in Kurdistan.”
“If the KRG provides services to any area in South Kurdistan, even if they are under PKK control, guerrillas will not be a barrier. Maybe some political parties are not happy with the PKK, so they make such a provocation.”
Safin Dzay, the KRG spokesperson, said the situation is “absolutely the opposite.”
“The PKK was the barrier for us to rebuild those villages,” Safin said. “They do not let us bring facilities, hospitals and police to the areas, and they set their checkpoints there and take taxes from people. The government had many attempts, but the PKK was the constraint.”
Ismail Cemil, a resident from Barwari Bala, blamed the guerrillas for disrupting his way of life. “After a ceasefire, I made a well under a walnut tree in my village, and I used to go there and stay overnight. But PKK guerrillas came and set their position there and prevented me from going there.”
Turkish jets bombed the well on July 25. “I’m happy that those who deprived me from it are not benefiting anymore.”