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Turkish military launches airstrikes targeting Christian villages in northern Iraq

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East has a diocese in Iraq, the Archdiocese of Baghdad. Like other Christian communities in Iraq, however, the Orthodox community has been decimated by well over a decade of war. Now that the presence of the Islamic State (ISIS) has been rolled back, the Turkish government is continuing the persecution of Christians by targeting Christian villages for airstrikes. This is yet another indication that Turkey richly deserves its designation by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) as a Tier 2 violators — that is, a country in which religious freedom violations are systematic, ongoing, and/or egregious. 

“Turkey Airstrikes Target Iraqi Christian Villages; Activists Call for War Crimes Investigation,” by Samuel Smith, Christian Post, October 2, 2018:

The Turkish military launched airstrikes targeting Iraqi Christian villages in northern Iraq, a rights group warned.

Local sources have told International Christian Concern, a U.S.-based persecution watchdog, that seven predominantly Christian villages were targeted by Turkish airstrikes last month. September saw an increase in Turkish airstrikes in the north of Iraq.

“Turkey attempts to justify these airstrikes by claiming that these villages support or have a PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) presence,” an ICC report reads. “Turkey is occupying a significant swath of land in northern Iraq and is deepening its presence daily.”

According to ICC, Christian villages in Iraq have historically faced challenges spurred by the PKK and the Kurdish Regional Government. However, the situation for the Christians in largely agricultural northern Iraq has “worsened while the NATO member continues to gain more territorial control in Iraq’s north.”

“Human rights groups have repeatedly warned that Turkey is using the PKK’s general presence as an excuse to expand its territory and that by conducting airstrikes where there is no specific legitimate military target, Turkey is in violation of international law,” ICC asserted in its report.

In September, Human Rights Watch suggested that there were at least four Turkish military operations in northern Iraq that claimed to have targetted the PKK (recognized by the United States as a terrorist group) dating back to May 2017 that should be investigated for possible war crimes.

The PKK has been active in Iraq, with its presence near the border of Turkey, Iran and Syria. The Turkish government has actively launched operations against the PKK for over 10 years.

Turkey’s airstrikes in northern Iraq have killed at least seven non-combatants and wounded at least one more, witnesses and relatives told the human rights group.

“As Turkey steps up operations in Iraq, it should be taking all feasible precautions to avoid harming civilians there,” Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Turkey should investigate possible unlawful strikes that killed civilians, punish those responsible for wrongdoing, and compensate victims’ families.”

Over the weekend, the Turkish military claimed to have “neutralized” at least 18 PKK militants through airstrikes that targeted various regions of northern Iraq.

HWR noted that Turkish forces have extended their presence in northern Iraq by about 10 miles and has multiple outposts in rural governorates under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Concern was raised earlier this year that Turkey-backed violence targeting the Afrin region of Syria was putting the lives of Christians and other civilians in “mortal danger.”

“As the leaders of the Christian churches in North Syria, in the town of Afrin we hereby confirm that we are under attack by Turkey,” an open letter from a pastor (name omitted for security purposes) in the region to international leaders read. “The lives of our women and children are in danger. The city of Afrin is being bombarded by Turkish airstrikes. We are asking for intervention, and protection against the violent attacks which are being levied against use at the moment.”…

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