You know who also came to Shengal, homeland of the Yezidis, overnight, all of a sudden? It was Daesh, also known as ISIS, and they perpetrated the most recent genocide against the Yezidis.
And this genocide is still ongoing, because the religious community is still unsafe and thousands of their children and women are still missing, in the hands of their assailants or maybe buried in a grave that their family members will never be able to find. No wonder then, that a chill went down my spine when I heard the Turkish president Erdoğan comment about Shengal: “We may come there overnight, all of a sudden.”
This means nothing less than Erdoğan is planning to continue what Daesh began – and had anyway began with the assistance of Turkey in the first place.
‘Sudden’ implies a kind of unexpectedness. Did Daesh come ‘suddenly’, on that horrific night early August 2014? Not really. It was well known Daesh didn’t give an inch of freedom to anybody not adhering to their inhumane version of Sunni Islam, let alone to the Yezidis, whom they consider to be devil’s worshippers. Their intention was to annihilate the Yezidi community. In order to reach their goal, they massacred thousands of men, and kidnapped children and mothers to either force and indoctrinate them to become ‘cubs of the caliphate’ or to be sold to other Daesh men to be held in slavery. Everybody could see it coming. And nobody did anything to prevent it from happening.
Also Erdoğan’s attack on Shengal will not come unexpectedly. Not only because he’s been openly suggesting it could happen any day now, but also because Turkey as a state is known for not giving an inch of freedom to anybody not adhering to its poisonous mix of Turkish nationalism and the state’s version of Sunni Islam. Let alone the Yezidis, who have dared to arm themselves in self-defense (check this recent interview with a YBŞ-commander for more info) and have started to build up an autonomous administration. People taking their fate into their own hands, especially when they are Kurds (which the Yezidis are considered to be, although part of the community considers itself not only a religious but also an ethnic minority) and under the ideological guidance of the views of Abdullah Öcalan, is just not something that Turkey can accept, inside or outside its borders. His pretext is of course to ‘fight the PKK’, but mind you: the PKK hasn’t had a presence in Shengal since 2018 and the YBŞ is a local, 100% Yezidi force.
True, not all Yezidis agree with the way the autonomous administration is set up by part of their community. The concept of self-rule is rooted in the ideology of democratic confederalism, developed for the region by Abdullah Öcalan, who was again inspired by American political thinker Murray Bookchin. What the community has the inalienable right to do though, is sort this out by itself, without interference by groups who have not protected them.
Erdoğan’s favourite paper Sabah commented that their master’s quote “We may come there overnight, all of a sudden” was a ‘famous phrase he said before Turkey carried out cross-border operations in northern Syria’ (note: that Sabah-article is dripping with state propaganda). What happens when Turkey and its mercenaries occupy territory, is well documented: kidnappings for ransoms, forced disappearances, torture, ethnic cleansing, looting, corruption, destruction of cultural and religious heritage, Turkification. Shengal is in Iraq and Turkey will have to balance its actions with the Iraqi army, but the prospect of Turkey marching in should terrify everybody
Quest for power
Earlier this week, Turkey’s defense minister Hulusi Akar paid a visit to Iraq and spoke to officials in both Baghdad and (Kurdistan Regional Government’s capital city of) Erbil. Surely, Shengal was on the agenda. The KDP, in charge in Erbil, the party that governed Shengal before 2014 and whose peshmerga forces left the Yezidis in Deash’s hands in 2014, rejects self-determination for the Yezidis, so it made a Turkey (and UN!) supported deal with Baghdad to share power. Erbil is driven not only by its own quest for power over lands outside its territory, but also by pressure to bow its head to Ankara. If Erbil doesn’t comply, Turkey’s wrath may turn against the KDP (read: the Barzani clan), which would mean the end of their corrupted power.
Complicated? Maybe. But what it boils down to, is that Turkey is planning to continue the genocide against the Yezidis that Daesh started. Not suddenly, not overnight, not unexpectedly. In the last couple of years Turkey has hit the area with bombings several times already. Daesh, the KDP, the Iraqi army, Turkey, they have all directly or indirectly acted against the Yezidi community with impunity. And they are about to do it again in unison. Who will stop them?
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist, you can follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.