ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Turkey over the past year has significantly advanced its military operations against Kurdish insurgents in the autonomous Kurdistan Region, resulting in the evacuation of dozens of villages in areas located near the borders, authorities have said.
In the past decade, neighboring Turkey has regularly shelled the Kurdistan Region borders targeting fighters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the mountainous areas in north-northwest of the region, but the operation this year has intensified and widened in terms of territory. In some areas, Turkish forces have mobilized as far as 30 kilometers into the region’s border.
Civilians in nearby villages often become victims of the clashes between the PKK and Turkish forces, some of which are killed or wounded as a result of ongoing Turkish airstrikes.
In the province of Duhok’s Atrush area alone, over 18 villages have been evacuated lately due to the threat of Turkish warplanes, local authorities stated.
“In addition to significant damage to agricultural lands, the environment, and villages’ infrastructure, the airstrikes have triggered an exodus of people, from villages to urban areas,” Sardar Yahya, Mayor of Duhok’s Sheikhan town, told Kurdistan 24 on Thursday.
Yahya stated that the shellings have also caused financial and material damages to villagers, some of whom completely lost their houses and belongings.
Statistics of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) suggests that in the past decade, hundreds of villages have been abandoned in the autonomous Kurdish region due to the ongoing conflict between the PKK and Turkish forces.
“The presence of the PKK in our areas serves no benefit to villagers but damage and adversity,” Ali Nasr, a villager in Atrush, told Kurdistan 24.
“People do not feel safe. We cannot visit our farms and lands due to the fear of being hit.”
The PKK’s headquarters is located on the Qandil mountain range and is frequently targeted by Turkey’s fighter planes.
The Kurdish group is engaged in a decades-long insurgency against Turkey over Kurdish rights and self-rule, in a conflict that has resulted in the death of over 40,000 people on both sides.
Turkey, the EU, and the US have designated the PKK as a “terrorist organization.”
On Monday, Turkish warplanes heavily shelled areas near Qandil Mountain, injuring several civilians in the area.
“Our village was hit by four airstrikes, each followed by the other as I was standing near my house,” Abdullah Ahmed told Kurdistan 24. He is a victim of the Monday airstrike who was admitted to the Ranya hospital for surgery.
“The strikes completely leveled everything around, including house, farms, and trees.”
Abdulrahman Hassan, another villager in Ranya, Sulaimani province, explained that recent shellings had terrified all villagers in the area.
“I have been living in our village for a long time and seen airstrikes far from the area, but this time was horrific as it hit our village. It looked like a scary Hollywood movie to me,” Hassan continued.
“There had never been such a strong strike near our village that remains of properties hit were found kilometers away from the original site. We had a beautiful agricultural farm in the village, but after Monday’s airstrike, now it looks like the farm was abandoned years ago.”
Nahro Abdullah, Mayor of Sangasar district, told Kurdistan 24 that the number of the Turkish bombardments in their area has increased in 2019 compared to the year before.
“Most of the airstrikes hit public roads in the villages and agricultural lands, which pushes many villagers to abandon the area,” Abdullah stated.
Over the past few years, villagers and the KRG have repeatedly asked the PKK and the Turkish government to move their battlefield out of the autonomous Kurdish region as civilians and the environment continue to suffer from the clashes.
Editing by Nadia Riva
(Chakdar Jamal and Aras Amin contributed to this report)