A group affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) declared what has been described as the democratic autonomy in the Yezidi area of Shingal on August 20, 2017. Photo: ANHA
SHINGAL, Kurdistan Region – A Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) appointed group in the Yezidi area of Shingal has declared what it calls “Democratic Autonomy” for the Yezidi people to rebuild and protect the area following the genocide committed against the religious minority three years ago by ISIS.
Shingal is located northwest of Mosul and borders Syrian Kurdistan. The Yezidi homeland is part of the disputed or Kurdistani areas, claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad. Erbil says all disputed areas will take part in the independence referendum planned for September 25 if the elected bodies in these areas vote to join the referendum.
The PKK declaration is expected to add to the tension in the areas where armed groups including the Kurdish Peshmerga, PKK, and the Iraqi-backed, mainly-Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi, among others, already have strained relations.
The PKK group calls for the establishment of a Yezidi Coordination Authority under the supervision of the United Nations, and with the membership of the PKK, Kurdistan Region, Iraq and the Kurdish-led administration in Syria, to help and eventually create an autonomous region that will have its own administration and security forces.
The United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq is aware of the reports.
"At this stage, all we can say is that we are closely following developments," a UNAMI spokesperson told Rudaw English on Monday.
Mahma Khalil, the Mayor of Shingal, under the control of the Kurdistan Region, has told Rudaw that “we are not aware of the declaration, and we are not interested in it, either.”
The declaration stipulated that forming Protection Units in the future for the Yezidis is a “legitimate right” to prevent future genocides.
It added that forming the force also means that they “refuse giving legitimacy to the Peshmerga forces who were tasked to protect us [Yezidis] but did not defend.”
The declaration, written in Arabic and Kurdish released on Sunday, made reference to events in August 2014, when the Kurdish Peshmerga failed to defend the Yezidi area against advancing ISIS militants, resulting in thousands of deaths among the Yezidi people, and enslaving thousands more.
“The fate and linking Shingal to the center [Baghdad] or the [Kurdistan] Region or any other status is bound to the outcome of talks of the Coordination Authority and the view of Council. In case the [talks] did not result in a final outcome, the issue will be referred to a general referendum,” the declaration said.
It said the new status could be of a decentralized province, adding that they support the idea to form three new provinces for Tal Afar, Shingal, and the Nineveh Plains, all of which could later be integrated into a region.
Currently, the southern areas of Shingal are under the control of the mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitaries, while the north is controlled by the various Kurdish groups.
Although Kurdish officials have expressed their praise for the PKK fighters who came to rescue the fleeing Yezidis in 2014 immediately after the ISIS advance on Shingal area, they have since said that the PKK should leave the area, just as the Kurdish Peshmerga who were deployed to the Syrian city of Kobane left after their mission was over.
Turkey, which considers the PKK a terrorist organization, has also said that they will not allow Mount Shingal to become a second Qandil, a mountainous region inside Kurdistan where the PKK is headquartered near the Turkish border. In April, Turkish war planes attacked a YBS position in Shingal, killing a number of their fighters.
Fighting between the PKK-affiliated Shingal Protections Units (YBS) and the so-called Rojava Peshmerga or Roj Brigrade broke out in early March this year, resulting in a number of casualties when the latter deployed its forces to Yezidi areas near the YBS-controlled town of Khanasoor.
Although called Peshmerga, the Roj Brigade are under the Kurdistan Region's interior ministry, part of the Zeravani forces, a militarized police force who have been active in the fight against ISIS since the summer of 2014.
The PKK controls less than a quarter of the Yezidi areas in Shingal, followed by the Hashd al-Shaabi.
The Peshmerga has large parts of territory under its control, including Shingal district, and Snune, also spelled Snuny.
The Sunday declaration comes after the PKK formed the Shingal Reconstruction Council in December 2014. The number of the Council at the time numbered 35, half of whom joined the Hashd al-Shaabi forces earlier this year. Hence, the head of the Council was changed and new members were brought in.
“The new staff of the Council has now started to work. We held some meetings with the PKK officials recently. We expect them to do well on the reconstruction of Shingal,” Hussein Haji, the new head of the Shingal Reconstruction Council, told Rudaw in June.
The issue of the PKK’s pullout from Shingal officially emerged at a conference on the independence of the Kurdistan Region held in December last year at the American University of Kurdistan in Duhok when the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani stressed that, “The PKK should leave Sinjar. Today’s presence of the PKK in Sinjar causes instability in the region.”
In a later interview with Al-Monitor, Barzani said he was ready to use force against the PKK if they did not leave Shingal voluntarily.
Updated with UNAMI remarks at 1:50 p.m.