A research centre, based in the United States and Belgium, published a report on the impact of airstrikes carried out by the Turkish government in Sinjar (Shengal), homeland of the Yazidi people who were the victims of a massacre by the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014, recognised as genocide by the United Nations and many more countries.
The report of the International Centre for the Study of Violent Extremism is entitled “Five Years of Airstrikes: Turkish Aggression and International Silence in Sinjar, 2017-2021”, with data on the number of air strikes and casualties within the last five years.
No international monitoring
The report states that Turkey has carried out airstrikes in Sinjar every single year from 2017 until 2021. “Despite this,” it is said, “there appears to be no serious international monitoring focused on the Turkish operations in Sinjar and how they impact Yazidis recovering from genocide.”
It is observed that the Turkish airstrikes “contribute to instability and prolong the underdevelopment of Sinjar”, and “alongside other security threats and the lack of basic services, Turkish drone and airstrikes also appear to be one of several reasons why Yazidis are reluctant to return to their homes in Sinjar.”
Gayle Manchin, chair of the bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) at the time is cited saying , the strikes were “threatening to hundreds of already traumatised Yazidi families attempting to return to Sinjar.”
Pari Ibrahim, the Director of the Free Yazidi Foundation, is also cited saying in a recent statement on 30 July, “Many Yazidis in the IDP [internally displaced people] camps mention that the air strikes are one reason they fear returning… Turkey had no interest in bombing Sinjar when it was held by ISIS. The Global Coalition should put an immediate end to these attacks. They are destabilising and dangerous.”
350,000 Yazidis still living in refugee camps
While thousands of civilians were killed and thousands of women and children were enslaved by ISIS in August 2014, the ISIS attack also resulted in the complete displacement of the Yazidi people living in the towns and villages south of Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq.
Half a million people fled, left defenceless against the attackers as the peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government and units of the Iraqi government withdrew, tens of thousands taking refuge in Mount Sinjar. It is now estimated that almost 350,000 Yazidis are currently living in refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan and other areas.
Initial rescue efforts in 2014 led by YPG and PKK
It is pointed out in the report that the initial rescue efforts in Sinjar in August 2014 were led by Syrian Kurds in the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and about a dozen fighters of the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK).
“Afterwards the PKK, a group designated by Turkey, the EU and the US as a terrorist organisation, began training local Yazidis to defend themselves and their region in the vacuum created after the withdrawal of other security forces” it is observed.
“From its vantage point,” it continues, “Ankara sees the Sinjar Defense Units (YBS) and Yazidi Women’s Units (YJE) as no different than the PKK, which has fought an insurgency against Turkey for decades, although the YBS was formed to defend Yazidis in Iraq from a genocide.”
At least 33 individuals killed in airstrikes
According to the report, Turkey conducted airstrikes or drone surveillance on at least 24 days between 2017-2021, and three of the 24 days involved some form of drone activity without any reported strikes. “The total number of airstrikes is unknown, but in some cases Turkish officials claim to have hit more than 81 targets on a single day” it is said.
The year 2020 witnessed the highest number of Turkish airstrikes with airstrikes on at least eight days throughout the year and drone surveillance on one day.
The report also draws attention to the inconsistency of Turkey’s claim that it was destroying PKK camps and its ability to mount attacks from Iraq back into Turkey, pointing out that Sinjar is located more than 150km to the south of the Turkish border.
The data on casualties is stated as follows: “At least 33 individuals have been killed as a result of these Turkish airstrikes, including civilians, Kurdish Peshmerga, Iraqi security forces, and Yazidis in the YBS-YJE. According to data from Airwars, 13 civilians have been killed in Sinjar alone as a result of the Turkish operations.”
2017: Turkey’s interventionist activities surpass those of Iran
It is indicated that the Turkish airstrikes had started in April 2017, about 15 months after ISIS militants were completely driven out of Sinjar. An observation in the report states:
“The year 2017 also happens to be when Turkey’s interventionist activities surpassed those of Iran, according to a new report by the Quincy Institute comparing six Middle Eastern powers over the past decade, suggesting that the airstrikes in Sinjar were part of Turkey’s expanding regional ambitions.”
It is observed how the Sinjar Agreement signed in October 2020 between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi government appears to have had no effect on the situation since Turkish airstrikes continued in 2021.
Then a statement by the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield on the airstrikes in Sinjar and the nearby Makhmour refugee camp in June, is cited as an infrequent international reaction: “Any attack targeting civilians at Makhmour refugee camp would be a violation of international and humanitarian law.”
The report drew a very direct conclusion: “Unlike violations committed by Turkish-backed proxy forces such as Ahrar al-Sharqiyah in Syria, which was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury on Wednesday [28 July], airstrikes conducted by the Turkish military itself can be directly traced back to Ankara.”