International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that by May 8, 2021, two Christian villages in Iraq’s Dohuk Province were reportedly abandoned because of Turkish bombardments. Kesta village was completely evacuated by May 3, with several residents fleeing to nearby Chalke village. However, Chalke village was then evacuated except for one individual by May 8.
Turkish bombardments increased in the area on April 23, allowing Turkey to establish new military bases. The timing of the operation was deliberately chosen to coincide with the commemoration anniversary of Turkey’s Ottoman-era genocide against Christians.
Reports also indicate that Turkey has deployed chemical weapons three times in the area since their military operation began. Turkey claims that they are conducting national security operations against the PKK terrorist group within Iraq’s borders.
Raw video footage of the evacuation showed families leaving as the bombardment continued in the background. They were traveling through a rural, mountainous region over difficult roads and attempting to save their farming livelihood in the process. Iraqi media has also aired footage showing airstrike damage.
The lone man who refused to leave Chalke village told Rudaw, “I have not abandoned my house and will not until I die. I sleep in my house, disregarding the constant bombardment.”
During ICC’s investigative trips to these areas, residents had previously shared, “The PKK’s presence here brings Turkey. In the villages, people do not know where they (Turkey) will target. So, we are in a lonely state, we don’t know where to go.”
“We have an old story: there was a person who had a mouse in the house, and when he brought a cat to kill the mouse, there were now two enemies in the home. In the end, he did not know what to do. Should he bring a dog? The same thing is happening now,” added another resident.
ICC’s joint report entitled Turkey: Challenges Facing Christians 2016-2020 documented how Turkish military expansionism is impacting Iraq’s Christians. “(Turkey’s military) operations have received international censure for indiscriminately targeting civilians, even when there is no proven PKK presence within a village.
“Iraq’s Christian community is predominately Assyrian, many of whose ancestors fled the Ottoman-era genocide. They also suffered and were displaced under the recent ISIS genocide. Compounding historical traumas have limited their quality of life. The Turkish-PKK conflict creates further limitations, while also causing a direct threat to human life.”
Iraq’s Christian community is still recovering from the genocide committed by ISIS from 2014-2017. Many of those families remain displaced. However, during that time, Turkey’s cease-fire agreement with the PKK collapsed and Turkey restarted military operations in Iraq. Today, Turkey has evolved into a regional superpower who is pursuing multiple ethnic-religious genocides within the borders of neighbouring countries.
Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “We are grieved to learn of the continued displacement of Christians in Iraq. They have suffered so much violence for decades that seems never ending. Turkey’s military encroachment into Iraq is done under the guise of national security concerns, but Turkey’s targeting of civilians stands in contradiction to international law and human rights. These issues must be addressed to help secure the longevity of Iraq’s Christian community.”
In the meantime many Christians continue to face untold hardship and death at the hands of Turkey’s military presence.