Last Tuesday, the Turkish government launched airstrikes against suspected outfits of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the Kurdistan Region territory. The attacks are an extension of Turkey’s efforts to curtail the expansion and influence of the PKK in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. While the government considers these attacks necessary, the recent bombardments have demonstrated the human and economic cost of such military efforts. Reports indicate that last week’s airstrikes caused significant damage to innocent farmer’s homes and fields, significantly hurting their livelihoods.
For decades, the Turkish military and the Kurdish people have been embroiled in a conflict. Leaders in Ankara instituted policies to undermine Kurdish efforts to establish self-governance and political recognition, aiming to marginalize the small ethnic group. The government has also violently cracked down on Kurdish uprisings in the country. The PKK was established in the 1970s. It launched an armed rebellion against the Turkish government in 1984, seeking to create an independent Kurdish state. However, the PKK has revisited its ambitions over the past few years and instead begun advocating for political autonomy for Turkey’s 16 million Kurds. Despite this shift, the Turkish government considers the PKK a terrorist organization.
Over the past several years, the Turkish government has launched numerous military offensives against the PKK to curtail the group’s separatist movement. According to Turkey’s National Defense Ministry, last Tuesday’s attack featured over 20 aircraft that struck 28 separate targets in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Turkish government claimed the attacks successfully hit PKK ammunition depots, caves, bunkers, and suspected hideouts.
While no civilian casualties have been identified, reports indicate that the offensive caused catastrophic damage to many nearby farming communities, including those in the Penjwen district. According to farmers from the area, the airstrikes damaged fields, orchards, and residences in the area and sparked numerous fires. One farmer shared that he found a crater in the middle of his field, which has caused an estimated $24,000 worth of damage.
Indeed, many of these farming communities are already struggling to make ends meet amid a global pandemic and the growing consequences of climate change. Last week’s airstrikes wiped out farmers’ crops, creating significant economic losses. Many of these families will need to begin farming from scratch if their lands are still arable. Additionally, those families who had their houses destroyed face an additional economic burden. Several farming communities claim that the airstrikes against their lands are misguided, as there is no PKK presence in their area. The Turkish government must do more to ensure its attacks do not negatively impact civilian populations.
Over the past few years, Turkey has ramped up its military operations against the PKK in the Middle East. While the Turkish government asserts that these attacks are necessary, it has had severe economic and social consequences for civilian populations. Last week’s Turkish airstrike, for example, caused significant damage to neighboring farmer communities. The Turkish government must work to limit the unintended consequences of its military operations on civilian populations.