Turkish forces pictured in the Avashin region of Kurdistan’s Duhok province late last month. Photo: Ozkan Bilgin/Anadolu Agency
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) says it did not suffer any casualties in recent Turkish operations against the group’s positions in northern Iraq. It accuses Turkey of trying to drive out civilians.
“[Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan claims that he carried out an aerial operation against Qandil with 24 jets, and that they dealt a heavy blow to the PKK with this operation. We have had no losses in these attacks,” Amed Malazgirt, a commander from PKK’s armed wing the HPG, said in an interview with Sterk TV on Sunday.
Turkish forces have pushed at least 30 kilometers into the Kurdistan Region with the aim of reaching PKK headquarters in Qandil. The PKK is a named terror organization in Turkey.
Turkish armed forces reported they had “neutralized” 35 PKK fighters in a strike on the north side of Qandil Mountain and another nine in operations in the Kurdistan Region and Kurdish areas of Turkey over the weekend.
Erdogan said they had hit a PKK gathering on Saturday – a claim the army did not confirm in its statements.
Malazgirt, however, claims Turkey is targeting civilian areas, not their forces.
“These attacks were mostly focused around the villages where the civilians live. The main goal was to force the civilian population in the Qandil region to migrate,” he said.
Ihsan Chalabi, Sidakan mayor, told Rudaw that Turkish forces are not in the area to target civilians, but are in the region because of the PKK.
“The Turkish troops are not here to occupy the villages, as we saw they entered some populated villages and later left,” Chalabi explained.
According to the official, some 110 villages have been emptied over recent decades, beginning when the PKK took control of the area. “Turkish forces are targeting the PKK bases in these areas,” he added.
Locals, however, tell a different story. Many told Rudaw they have had to quickly abandon their farms ahead of Turkish advances, and soldiers can be seen just 500-1,000 meters from the villages.
“We didn’t even go this year to get mushrooms and rhubarb. We can’t go near the bases with our cows,” said Khurshid Miro, whose village is now under Turkish control.
Malazgirt confirmed Turkish forces have made some advances.
“It is true that the Turkish army entered some hills. They have set up positions on some hills. But since the first day they came, our forces have constantly carried out extensive actions against the Turkish army with casualties from them,” he said.
Turkey has advanced as far as Lelikan Hill, roughly 20 kilometers from the Turkish border, and is stockpiling weapons in preparation for an operation.