Civilians in Amedi suffer as fighting rages between Turkey and PKK

13-01-2024 02:20
The aftermath of Turkish bombings on civilians' houses in Guharze village of Amedi District.

Peregraf- Ammar Aziz

Over the past month, five artillery shells have hit Manaf Nizmi’s village of Guharze in Duhok governorate. His family narrowly avoided death when one landed in his yard.

Observers may see a green and fertile valley, but Nizmi says he lives on a battlefield because of the frequent Turkish attacks on Amedi district. Ankara says the attacks are justified by the need to protect itself from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which operates in the area.

"In December 2023 alone, five shells hit the houses of citizens in our village. One of them hit my house, but fortunately none of my family were killed or injured," Nizmi said. The attack collapsed the roof of his house, which he has been unable to repair.

"If this continues, there will be casualties," he told Peregraf.

Two of the other shells hit vehicles, putting nearby residents at risk. The bombardment has terrified his neighbors, who feel trapped in their homes due to fear of the conflict between Turkey and the PKK.

This dangerous situation has lasted many years. The bombing used to be contained to remote, rural areas, but it is now just ten to fifteen kilometers from the center of the district, which contains significant populations centers including Amedi, Shiladze, and Deraluk.

In 2023, at least ten civilians were killed and twelve others were wounded in Turkish attacks in the Kurdistan Region, according to watchdog Community Peacemaker Teams (CPT). At least four of the deadly attacks were in Duhok governorate.

Haifa Amedi is a 40-year-old teacher who works at a school in the center of Amedi district. She told Peregraf that her family cannot comfortably sleep at night because of the noise of planes and explosions.

"We can't go anywhere during the day. Every year the people of Amedi have a cultural festival in the area, but they were deprived of it because of the war. Smoke rises around us every day and it's all because of the bombings," said Amedi.

She told Peregraf that the situation has made her almost hopeless of ever finding stability.

Turkey has more than a dozen military bases in the Kurdistan Region, with thousands of troops deployed more than 35 kilometers inside Iraqi territory. Some of the bases have been in place since the civil war between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the 1990s. Turkey’s continued military operations have led locals to abandon their villages, fields, and grazing areas.

Approximately, 150 people have been killed and more than 230 others injured in Turkish air and ground attacks in the Kurdistan Region between 2015 and the end of 2023. Iraq’s federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have condemned the deaths, but have limited ability to prevent them.

In Guharze, Nazmi’s garden is relatively close to his home, but he dares not visit it for fear of being mistaken for a PKK fighter operating in the hills.

"No one can move comfortably. The area is banned. The area was like a paradise, but there is no happiness because of the war between Turkey and the PKK and the bombings," he said.

Peregraf contacted several senior administrative officials and district directors in Amedi, but they refused to comment to the media.

"I am not allowed to talk about this issue because it is a military issue. Some places in the district are banned and people know which places. It is better not to go to those areas," Rebar Sadiq Mustafa, director of Dereluk district, told Peregraf.

Dilshad Nasrullah Qanjo, a resident of the Siriye community near the town of Shiladze, told Peregraf that "the Turkish army used to conduct operations and return to their areas, but now they are stationed in the mountains of Amedi."

"They have set up big military checkpoints and are building roads to the barracks. This is a bad development and people are afraid for their future," he added.

Fighting has been particularly fierce around Shiladze. Movement is highly restricted in 60 percent of the subdistrict and many villages lie deserted, with the Turkish military in control of Nera, Rekan, and Neheli.

"It has a negative impact on people's lives and people are afraid of many things. They have given up gardens and planting the land. Thousands of young people have migrated," Qanjo said.

"Turkey’s military bases and headquarters are so close to us that we can see their shovels and equipment when they are working and their lights are visible at night. Some villages have fallen to the mercy of cannons and bullets," he added.

While the authorities recognize the negative impact of the fighting on civilians in Amedi, there is little that they can do to help them.

Colonel Dara Jamal, director of civil defense in Amedi, told Peregraf that "the Turkish bombings and the continuous fighting with the PKK have caused us a lot of headaches."

"People are suffering from the bombings and are asking us for help. We are going [to affected areas] as much as we can, but sometimes we have not been able to go for fear of being bombed again or sometimes the PKK has prevented us from going."