When will the pain stop? New Turkish bombing causes fires on Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian agricultural land in Nohadra

NOHADRA and NAHLA, Iraq — Agricultural lands, pastures and homes belonging to Chaldean–Syriac–Assyrian villages have caught fire in the northern Iraqi region of Nohadra (Duhok). During the week, the fires started as a consequence of heavy bombing by Turkish helicopters and warplanes of assumed positions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Several Chaldean–Syriac–Assyrian villages in the Nahla Valley were affected. The airstrikes have e.g. caused fires and damage to houses of the Chaldean–Syriac–Assyrian village of Upper Hazanke on Wednesday. According to the mayor of the village, it took more than one day to extinguish the fires because Chaldean–Syriac–Assyrian villagers and firefighters had difficulty reaching the fires.

The Kurdish guerilla organization PKK and the Turkish state have been embroiled in armed conflict for decades over the denial of Kurdish rights in Turkey. The PKK is outlawed and designated a terrorist organization by Turkey and its NATO allies the United States and the European Union.

Many Chaldeans–Syriacs–Assyrians heavily criticize the PKK’s guerilla tactics. They claim the PKK consciously carries out guerrilla movements in areas and villages where Chaldeans–Syriacs–Assyrians live, drawing them into the conflict and causing harm on their villages, homes, and lands.

The PKK has its main training camps and guerilla hideouts in the mountains of the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). The most powerful and ruling family in the Kurdish region are the Barzanis who have close ties to the Turkish government. President Nechirvan Barzani and Prime Minister Masrour Barzani dominate the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). They share power in the KRI with the Talabani family who rule out of the city of Sulaymaniyah. Both families — and factions within them — maintain their own armed forces, police, and intelligence services.

Turkey has been militarily active in the area for decades. Already in the time of Saddam Hussein, Ankara and the Iraqi dictator have a deal in which Turkey was allowed to cross the border into Iraq up to several kilometers to fight and bomb the Kurdish guerilla. Nowadays, neighboring Iran significantly interferes in Iraqi politics. Iran also doesn’t mind Turkey’s military activity — so long as it stays out of areas of Iranian influence.

In his Die WELT article When Kurds fight each other, Erdogan rubs his hands, journalist Alfred Hackensberger says that the Turkish Army has been sending special commandos and military aircraft into Iraqi territory and airspace for years to destroy PKK positions. In June of 2020, Ankara launched two large-scale ground and air operations in northern Iraq ostensibly against the PKK. Turkish soldiers crossed the 367-kilometer border in at least 6 different places and took control of extensive areas of northern Iraq — the estimated total area is around 200 square kilometers. Turkey is reported to have set up some 37 military posts in the KRI.

Turkey considers the PKK and its offshoots a threat to Turkey’s national security.

“How real this threat actually is, remains debatable. In any case, Turkey is using the PKK as a pretext for its policy of regional hegemony, ” writes Hackensberger. “President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cited the “fight against terror” as the reason for two recent invasions and the occupation of large swathes of land in northern Syria. A similar scenario now threatens northern Iraq.”