06/03/2021 Iraq (International Christian Concern) – In the early morning hours of Tuesday, May 25, residents of Miska, a small Christian community in the Kurdistan region of Northern Iraq, were awakened by deafening blasts as Turkish rockets struck the ground a mere 100 yards from their homes. The attack caused structural damage to several buildings in the community, including the local church, prompting a condemnation from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). USCIRF commissioner Nadine Maenza stated her dismay for the negligence of the Turkish government in conducting the airstrike and implored the Turkish military to cease its activity in the region to prevent further harm to non-combatants in the Kurdistan region and their communities.
Unfortunately, Turkish bombings have become far too frequent a reality for those living in the Kurdistan region. The residents of two villages mere kilometers away from Miska chose to abandon their homes, uprooting their entire livelihoods to escape future bombardments. In Miska, only eight families remain, a number that is likely to decrease following the terror of this most recent attack. Turkey’s airstrikes have placed vulnerable Christian communities like Miska in the crossfire of a conflict that they wish no part in.
Turkey’s bombings of Northern Iraq take place in the context of the decades-long conflict between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), an armed Kurdish militia that seeks to expand the rights of Kurds within Turkey’s borders. Turkey’s clashes with the PKK began over 30 years ago but have violently increased in recent years. Miska is one of hundreds of villages in the region that have been indiscriminately targeted by Turkish airstrikes, prompting condemnation from the international community of Turkey’s failure to differentiate between civilian and military targets. Since the start of Turkey’s military activity in the Kurdistan region, 504 villages have been abandoned, including at least 150 Assyrian Christian communities, many of which had no evident connection to the PKK.
Being caught in the crossfire of a conflict that does not directly concern them is the latest example of persecution against the vulnerable Assyrian Christian community in the Kurdistan region. Having suffered severe oppression during ISIS’s reign of terror in northern Iraq, the recent uptick in Turkish airstrikes has perpetuated their persecution even after the Islamic State’s collapse. Turkey must do more to ensure that its military activities do not harm non-combatants, including Assyrian Christians, in its ongoing conflict with the PKK. While USCIRF’s public criticism of Turkey’s airstrikes will help raise awareness of the plight of Assyrian Christians in northern Iraq, it is unlikely that these communities will find rest in the near future.
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