ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The Turkish army has in the last month begun interrogating villagers in the Batifa subdistrict of Duhok province and barring them from tending to their land, residents of the area have told Rudaw.
Idris Younes was on his way to irrigate his farmland in the village of Ris ten days ago when he was arrested by Turkish officers.
“The Turkish government captured me while I was in my car. They took me to our village [Ris]. Then, a Turkish commander handed me over to the commander of mercenaries, who held me for some three hours and released me upon receiving an order from the Turkish commander,” Younes told Rudaw earlier this week.
By mercenaries, Younes was referring to guards, mostly from Kurdish villages in southeast Turkey, who work in Batifa on the orders and payroll of the Turkish interior ministry.
In mid-June, Turkey launched an air and ground military offensive against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) presence in the Kurdistan Region. The PKK, an armed Kurdish group fighting for the political and cultural rights of Kurds in Turkey, has been headquartered in the mountains of the Turkey-Iraq-Iran border area for decades.
At least eight civilians, as well as two Iraqi border officials, have been killed in Turkish airstrikes in Duhok and Erbil provinces since mid-June. Ankara announced that it had “successfully completed” its anti-PKK ground operations in the Haftanin area in early September.
Mohammed Ahmed, from the Batifa village of Bank, told Rudaw that locals remain under intense pressure from both Ankara and the PKK.
“Turkey comes here and says that the PKK is a terrorist organization and it is evil. After ten days, Turkey would leave here and the PKK would replace them,” Ahmed said. “They both oppress us.”
Villagers of some areas in Duhok province told Rudaw in June that they were having to seek permissionfrom the Turkish army to visit their farms and allow their animals to graze. Dlsher Abdulsattar, mayor of Batifa subdistrict told Rudaw this week that Ankara’s interrogation of villagers has compounded their fear.
“After being interrogated by Turkish army, the locals of the villages that are part of Batifa subdistrict can’t go to their farmland. This has caused instability, and has harmed them psychologically. They fear that they could be targeted in bombing,” he said.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has not issued an official stance on the interrogation of villagers by Turkish officers. However, it has more generally demanded that both Turkey and the PKK end their operations in the Kurdistan Region.
Zryan Rojhalati, a researcher at Rudaw Research Center said on Friday that Turkey’s overall presence in the Kurdistan Region forms part of “a new stage of oppressing Kurds, domestically and through foreign interventions” since 2015, when a short-lived ceasefire between Ankara and the PKK crumbled.
Turkey is emboldened by a decades-old military deal it has with Baghdad that renders any KRG response futile, Rojhelati said.
“As per the deal, Turkey can chase groups that oppose it for up to 30 kilometers into Iraq. If it wants to enter more than 30 kilometers into the country, it needs Baghdad’s approval,” Rojhalat said.
“I believe what Turkey is doing on the border is mostly based on this deal … So the Kurdistan Region is not an effective actor in preventing Turkey’s invasion.”
Late Iraqi security expert Husham al-Hashimi told Rudaw English in June that Turkey’s latest military campaign had been approved by the governments of both Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.
The Turkish presidency’s Directorate of Communications issued a map in July that showed it had established 37 “military points” within the borders of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, including one established in each of the cities of Erbil, Duhok, Zakho and Soran. The map was later removed from its original site of publication.
Ankara had set up another four military bases in the Kurdistan Region by late September, a local security source told Rudaw.
The Turkish army’s incursions into the Kurdistan Region since 1992 have left a staggering 504 villages empty and their residents internally displaced, according to a report released in September by the Kurdistan Regional Parliament.