Yazidis refugees carry their belongings on Jan. 3, 2017, in Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey, as they change their refugee camp and move to Midyat, farther south. Read more: https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2021/03/turkey-syria-yazidi-captives-speak-of-isis-ongoing-activity.html#ixzz6rSxvOxDX

Yazidi Genocide Survivors Regularly Targeted by Turkish Airstrikes

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By Matt Broomfield

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) this week received a formal complaint over a Turkish airstrike which struck a civilian hospital in the Yazidi homeland of Sinjar (Shengal) on 17 August 2021, killing eight and injuring 20. The complaint, issued by four survivors and eyewitnesses in the run-up to the ninth anniversary of the Yazidi Genocide conducted by ISIS militants, puts the spotlight on Turkey’s years-long campaign of airstrikes that regularly target both civilian and military infrastructure in Sinjar. The occasion should provoke a reckoning for Turkey’s deadly campaign, which is keeping the Yazidis from pursuing a more just, democratic and autonomous political settlement as they struggle to rebuild their community.

As far as Turkey is concerned, the 2021 strike was a legitimate military action aimed at the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). But no-one denies the fact that the PKK were involved in the establishment of the Şingal Resistance Units (YBŞ), the Yazidi force created to defend Sinjar in the aftermath of the 2014 genocide. On the contrary, the PKK worked openly in tandem with US airstrikes and the Syrian Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) to open a humanitarian corridor and save the Yazidi people from a fate yet worse than that which they suffered nine years ago, when around 5,000 people, predominantly men, were killed and thousands of women and children abducted into sex slavery, many of them still missing.

Those Yazidis who survived the genocide suffer regular airstrikes by Turkey, as well as power-grabs by other regional forces

The PKK’s intervention at that time was no secret, nor was their continued presence in the region throughout the war to drive out ISIS. Since then, the YBŞ say, the PKK – and particularly Turkish PKK members – have withdrawn from the region, handing it over to local Yazidis. And sure enough, almost all of the recent victims of Turkish strikes have been local Yazidis. A 2021 analysis found that 60% of Turkish airstrikes against Yazidis resulted in civilian casualties, while educational facilities and members of the region’s Sinjar Autonomous Administration (SAA) have also been targeted. According to the claimants at the UN, there have been about 80 Yazidi victims of ‘collateral damage’ from Turkish airstrikes since 2017.

With the strike on the hospital, Turkey showed its hand, striking what the claimants say was a makeshift civilian hospital with no military protection and where no PKK members were present. While this legal distinction is vital in holding Turkey to account, it’s only half the story. Yazidis welcomed the PKK as their saviors as ISIS attempted to eradicate the embattled religious minority, and thereafter the Yazidi-led SAA welcomed the PKK’s call for regional devolution and autonomy as offering hope for a more secure, democratic and vibrant future for Sinjar.

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The PKK formally withdrew from Sinjar in a bid to reduce tensions in a region where the federal Iraqi authorities and Kurdistan Regional Government both seek dominance, alongside Iranian-backed militias, despite the fact that both Iraqi and KRG forces abandoned the Yazidis in the face of genocide in 2014. Nonetheless, their secular, democratic ideology is directly opposed to ISIS’ vision, and can and should contribute to any future political settlement in the region through its promotion of community self-determination and inter-ethnic tolerance.

Not only strikes on civilian hospitals, but all of Turkey’s attacks on Sinjar and the YBŞ, are destructive, callous, and cause for moral outrage. Hundreds of thousands of Yazidis still live in exile, unable to return home, partly due to fear of continued waves of deadly violence, as well as the lack of basic infrastructure or funding for reconstruction following the war against ISIS. Nor should it be forgotten that Sinjar is about 100 kilometres from the Turkish border, making it even harder to see how Turkey’s claims to be protecting its national security through striking the Yazidi homeland can be justified.

The landmark case at the UN demonstrates the inhumanity of Turkey’s aerial campaign against the Yazidis. Nine years on from the genocide, Turkey must be forced to desist from targeting those genocide survivors who have bravely remained to continue defending their region. Those principles which drove the PKK to save the Yazidis from genocide are the same principles which must underpin the reconstruction of Sinjar, to prevent such an atrocity from ever recurring.

(Matt Broomfield is a freelance journalist, poet and activist. He writes for VICE, Medya News, the New Statesman and the New Arab; his prose has been published by The Mays, Anti-Heroin Chic and Plenitude; and his poetry by the National Poetry Society, the Independent, and Bare Fiction. His work was displayed across London by Poetry on the Underground, and he is a Foyle Young Poet of the Year. This commentary first appeared on www.medyanews.net on August 6.)

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